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World warns Pakistan of action over polio

June 29, 2011

LAHORE, June 29: Some European countries are seriously considering placing travel restrictions on Pakistani citizens if their country failed to achieve the target of polio eradication by 2012, a deadline given by the World Health Organization, Dawn has learnt.

Similarly, the World Bank has asked the Pakistan government to eradicate this virus by 2012 or face conversion of a WB grant into loan.

The issues came to the surface in a high-level meeting of the WHO titled ‘Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI)’ held at Bhurban a couple of days back, a WHO representative told Dawn requesting not to be named. The senior government officials from all four provinces attended the meeting besides other health experts.

The WHO official said the meeting participants were informed the Pakistan government was under immense pressure from many countries as well as big international donors to make extraordinary efforts to eradicate polio by the 2012 deadline.

The particular instructions make a lot of sense since Pakistan tops the list of four countries where the disease still exists despite the global campaign to get rid of it. The other three countries are Nigeria, India and Afghanistan.

Pakistan has been declared ‘polio endemic state’ as 57 more polio cases were reported here between January 2011 to June 2011. The number of cases in Nigeria this year was 11, as compared to five in India and four in Afghanistan.

The official Dawn talked to said the meeting was informed the WHO had set for Pakistan a strict performance criteria to follow at "all costs"; the Pakistan government must curtail 95 per cent polio cases from the country by the end of 2012.

After that Pakistan must keep new polio cases at zero per cent for three years consecutively to qualify for a ‘polio-free state’ status given to such countries by the WHO.

“Traveling restrictions may prove to be a major penalty for Pakistan if its government failed to achieve the target set by the European countries and will also cause embarrassing situation for its government world-wide,” the official said. But, according to him the meeting was not told which countries had warned Pakistan of restrictions.

He said China had faced a similar gesture by many countries some four years back over the Avian Influenza epidemic. The WHO representative said the Pakistan government had signed a treaty with the World Bank according to which the WB could convert its grant for polio vaccination into loan if the country failed to achieve the polio eradicating target by the set deadline.

Given the seriousness of the situation a three-day aggressive anti-polio campaign will be launched on July 18 across the country under the National Immunization Days (NIDs) Programme, he said.