ISLAMABAD/KARACHI: Polio vaccination certificates will now be mandatory for all people travelling abroad from June 1, the government announced on Tuesday as traces of the poliovirus were found in samples taken from the sewers of Karachi and Lahore — the two largest cities in the country.

In a meeting held in Islamabad, officials from the Ministry of National Health Services assured delegates from the World Health Organisation (WHO) that from next month, all international travellers would be required to obtain a certificate of immunisation before embarking.

Sources in the ministry said the immunisation certificate would be a necessary travel document for all Pakistanis, as well as foreigners who stayed in the country for four weeks or more.

A statement issued after the meeting said: “Recommendations made by the WHO director general… are expected to be fully implemented in two weeks. Federal and provincial governments are collaborating with WHO, Unicef and health development partners to mobilise (all) available resources and ensure the availability of vaccine, vaccination certificates and human resources.”

Samples test positive

Also on Tuesday, officials of the Prime Minster’s Polio Cell in Islamabad confirmed that samples taken from the areas of Gadap and Gulshan-i-Iqbal in Karachi had tested positive for the poliovirus. A previous test of sewer-water in these areas had also yielded similar results.

In addition, sources in the Sindh Health Department revealed that samples taken from the Machar Colony and Khamiso Goth areas had also tested positive for traces of the virus.

However, they claimed that the results announced by the PM’s Polio Cell were based on samples taken in March and that the results of the tests carried out on samples taken in April have yet to be announced.

In Lahore, samples from the Main Outfall Road pumping station had tested positive for the poliovirus, while those taken from the Multan Road disposal station had turned out negative.

WHO Senior Polio Surveillance Dr Zubair Mufti told Dawn the virus detected in Lahore was a strain that originated in Fata. Samples taken from the Sabzi Mandi in Islamabad, as well as those taken from Peshawar, had tested negative for the virus, he said.

Of a total of 60 reported cases of polio this year, 47 were from Fata, five from Karachi and eight from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. To put the enormity of the numbers into perspective, only 80 cases of polio have been detected worldwide so far this year.

Officials from the PM’s Polio Cell claimed that the virus found from Lahore was a ‘low grade one’ and less likely to infect the population. However, according to them, the situation in Karachi was just as alarming as it had been last year, when eight of the 10 cases of polio reported from Sindh were detected in the metropolis.

Sindh Health Department officials told Dawn that they had already made arrangements to vaccinate travellers and issue certificates at international airports, as well as all DHQ hospitals across Sindh.

Published in Dawn, May 14th, 2014.

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