ISLAMABAD: A local resident, who planned to spend the month of Ramazan and Eid days with his family in the United Kingdom (UK), faced an interesting glitch at the airport when there was no one available to administer polio vaccine to him before his departure.

His flight was to leave for the Middle East at 4am on July 3, so he decided to reach the airport two hours before the departure time and get the polio certificate from the designated counter at Benazir Bhutto International Airport Islamabad.

Unfortunately, despite his best efforts, he was unable to find anyone who could administer the vaccine to him and issue a health certificate accordingly. Having left with no other option, he went to the immigration counter, but no one asked him for the polio certificate. After completing his immigration process and due security check-up, he reached the airplane without any hurdles. Next day, he travelled from the Middle East and reached UK without any issues.

According to reports from other travellers, he is not the only person who faced the problem of unavailability of officials at the airport polio counter.

Health ministry asks travellers to get certificates from hospitals at least four weeks before departure

It is pertinent to mention here that on May 5, World Health Organisation (WHO) declared it mandatory for Pakistanis travelling abroad to receive at least one dose of anti-polio vaccine, since the country was accused of exporting the virus to other regions. Along with the travel advisory, the government was suggested to issue certificates to travellers assuring that they had received the vaccine.

After multiple complaints from passengers and their relatives about the unavailability of anti-polio vaccination staff at the airport, a photographer of Dawn reached the airport. Even at that time, there was no one at the polio counter; however, the security staff did not allow the photographer to take pictures of the vacant booth.

The Ministry of National Health Services Secretary Rashida Malik decided to resolve the problem and, on Tuesday, issued an advisory for the public and immigration staff at the airport.

The advisory mentioned that according to the recommendations of WHO, every person had to receive the vaccination at least four week before travelling abroad. Although, WHO has allowed polio vaccination to be administered at the airport in cases of severe emergency.

Also read: Provinces told to try harder to eradicate polio

An official of the health ministry, requesting anonymity, said even though the counter at the airport was meant for emergency cases only, people have made it a routine to not get the vaccination and related travel certificates from the hospitals, and instead demand them at the airport for convenience.

“People who demand a travel certificate at the airport can cause the flights to be delayed. So, an advisory has been issued with an instruction that the people should get their certificates at least four weeks before the date of travel,” he said, adding that the immigration staff has also been advised to check polio travel certificates for all the passengers travelling abroad.

Minister of National Health Services Saira Afzal Tarar told Dawn that the issue was not in her knowledge. “I will instruct the immigration staff to ensure that polio travel certificate of every person is checked,” she said.

Published in Dawn, July 9th , 2014