ISLAMABAD - Pakistan has sought two weeks’ time from the World Health Organisation (WHO) for preparations to implement travel recommendations, besides requesting it to help procure polio vaccine required for additional vaccination at the ports.
Minister for National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination Saira Afzal Tarar briefing the media said that Pakistan has requested the WHO to assist the country in vaccine procurement as the availability of vaccine is the biggest issue.
She spoke to media along with the provincial health ministers after attending an emergency meeting the ministry had called to discuss how to implement the WHO’s recommendations. According to WHO officials, the request has been forwarded to Geneva and there are strong chances that it will be approved for preparations.
The WHO on May 5 declaring polio a ‘public health emergency of international concern’, had recommended travel restrictions for people living in Pakistan, Syria, Cameroon on the recommendation of International Health Regulatory Emergency Committee to curb the transmission of polio virus across the globe.
The government did not want to waste the time in appealing against the decision, said the minister. “Pakistan is ready to implement travel recommendation of WHO within two weeks after availability of vaccine but it needs Rs 0.8 billion for procurement as 27,474 travellers go abroad daily and their vaccination needs logistic support.” She said the WHO has also been asked to convey the member states that during the two weeks’ time the Pakistani travellers should not be troubled and demanded vaccination cards.
Showing Pakistan’s displeasure over WHO’s decision for overlooking the security situation of Pakistan that is directly associated with the rise in polio cases in the country, she said, “Pakistan is not solely responsible for this situation and international community shares equal responsibility for Pakistan’s problems.”
Pakistan should have been give grace period for preparedness as India had given two moths time for implementation, she said. “At international forums various lobbies work against you so such matters should be handled diplomatically and for this foreign office has been consulted. The issue will be raised in the World Health Assembly going to be held on May 19.”
The minister was of the view that they are ‘recommendations not restrictions’ for three months and if ‘we act upon them they will be reversed’. “We will do our best to facilitate international travellers. All provincial and federal governments have agreed to issue uniform polio vaccination certificates to all travellers once vaccine made available to the authorised facilities. District Health Officers and MS of teaching hospitals will be authorised to issue the vaccination card that will be provided by the federal government to maintain uniformity.”
She said the Civil Aviation officials also agreed to establish vaccination counters at all international airports, already established at some of them but some time will be needed to plan logistics. Central health centres would be established to guide the travellers where only grade 19 officials would be authorised to issue vaccination card free of cost.
Syed Tariq Fatemi, Ms Tasnim Aslam from Ministry of Foreign Affairs, all provincial ministers for Health, Aviation secretary and representatives of federal and provincial Expanded Programme of Immunisation departments attended the meeting.
The officials were of the opinion that Pakistan government was making every effort to gain access in security compromised areas of Federally Administered Tribal Areas where the real problem lies, including a few parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. They said that Punjab and Balochistan have reported no cases so far. The meeting had a consensus that the WHO had made the decision of imposing travel restrictions in haste.
As per WHO recommendation, the governments will have to ensure that the travellers of all ages visiting for more than four weeks should receive a dose of the oral polio vaccine (OPV) or inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV) between four weeks and 12 months prior to international travel. And also ensure that individuals undertaking urgent travel, who have not received a dose of OPV or IPV in the previous four weeks to 12 months, receive a dose of the polio vaccine at least by the time of departure.