ISLAMABAD – The poor performance of Pakistan in anti-polio campaign has now earned an international damnation as the World Health Organization (WHO) put travel restrictions on 180 million Pakistanis fearing outspread of polio virus.
WHO included Pakistan along with Cameroon and Syria for being the only three countries that were currently exporting wild polio virus.
The WHO recommended Pakistan, Cameroon and Syria to:
- Officially declare, if not already done, at the level of head of state or government, that the interruption of poliovirus transmission is a national public health emergency;
- Ensure that all residents and long-term visitors (i.e. > 4 weeks) receive a dose of OPV or inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV) between 4 weeks and 12 months prior to international travel;
- Ensure that those undertaking urgent travel (i.e. within 4 weeks), who have not received a dose of OPV or IPV in the previous 4 weeks to 12 months, receive a dose of polio vaccine at least by the time of departure as this will still provide benefit, particularly for frequent travellers;
- Ensure that such travellers are provided with an International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis in the form specified in Annex 6 of the International Health Regulations (2005) to record their polio vaccination and serve as proof of vaccination;
- Maintain these measures until the following criteria have been met: (i) at least 6 months have passed without new exportations and (ii) there is documentation of full application of high quality eradication activities in all infected and high risk areas; in the absence of such documentation these measures should be maintained until at least 12 months have passed without new exportations.
According to the statement, once the country has met the criteria to be assessed as no longer exporting wild poliovirus, it will continue to be considered infected until the time it has met the criteria to be removed from that category.
The travel ban was long expected but unfortunately the government has not yet sorted out any strategy to meet with the challenged. One senior official at the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulation and Coordination (NHSRC), told PakistanTribe on May 1, “Pakistan has not yet worked on a strategy to deal with the restrictions, if imposed. There would be a strict visa policy for people who will be travelling from Pakistan or coming in, he explained. It will become difficult for frequent business travelers to get vaccinated during every visit.”
The anti-polio organizations like WHO, UNICEF, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have been supporting Pakistan’s federal and provincial governments to eradicate polio in country. However, there is something not right. PakistanTribe had reported stories where anti-polio programmes like Sehat Ka Insaf have been marred with corruption allegations not from the opposition but also from the internal sources of political party which was running the campaign. PakistanTribe also reported several stories where anti-polio workers were either attacked, abducted or killed.