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PESHAWAR: The federal government has asked the provinces to ensure that people travelling abroad get immunised against polio in line with the recommendations of International Health Regulations Emergency Committee of the World Health Organisation so as avoid spread of the childhood ailment to other parts of the world, according to relevant officials.

Last year, Pakistan recorded 93 polio cases. On May 15, the WHO had recommended Pakistan to immunise all its international travellers to check transmission of polio virus to countries long declared polio-free.

According to the sources, all the provinces have been facing an uphill task of implementing the recommendations as the travellers either go unchecked at the airports and seaports or they present fake vaccination certificates.

Any laxity in implementation of the WHO recommendations can lead to stricter restrictions like travel ban for Pakistan, according to the federal government’s letter to the provinces issued on July 15.

Any laxity can result in travel ban, warns federal govt

The Ministry of National Health Services Regulations and Coordination has requested the ministry of interior, provincial chief secretaries, director-general of immigration and passports and the Civil Aviation Authority for stricter implementation of the recommendations regarding anti-polio vaccination of travellers.

During the immigration process, the authorities should allow only those possessing a vaccination certificate to embark on the international flights, it said.

The officials said that the provinces also needed more vaccines to implement the recommendations which came into force on May 31 after the WHO accepted the government’s request for an extension of 15 days. As polio cases in the country have surged to 104 this year, the highest among the three polio-endemic countries in the world, Pakistan is facing extreme pressure from the international community to take measures to stop transportation of the virus to their children, they said.

The officials said that the federal ministry of health services regulations had been unable to deal with the provinces because health was a provincial subject after the 18th amendment while the federal government was responsible to make sure that the international commitments were fulfilled.

They said that Pakistan had been monitored closely because of the speed with which new polio cases were surfacing. They said that worried over this situation the polio-free countries had been exerting pressure that international travellers from Pakistan should be administered two drops of OPV irrespective of their age.

The authorities must check vaccination certificates of international travellers obtained from the respective district health officers, medical superintendents and other designated offices at the airports, seaports and land crossings. These certificates should be verified at all exist points.

The letter said that it was mandatory for Pakistan to implement the recommendations as part of its global polio eradication efforts.

Published in Dawn, Aug 4th, 2014