LAHORE - Following imposition of travel sanctions on Pakistan by WHO, the biggest federating unit in the country has come up with the same idea of making compulsory presentation of polio vaccination certificates for entering Punjab from Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The Punjab government will depute polio vaccination teams at 41 entry/exit points from Khyber PK and entrances from Sindh to administer polio drops to children. Those refusing to take polio drops will not be allowed to enter Punjab unless they present polio vaccination certificates.

“Either they have to take polio drops or present a polio vaccination certificate for entering Punjab. Those who refuse to take polio drops and at the same time failed to present a polio vaccination certificate will not be allowed to enter Punjab,” said an official at Health Department.

As per the World Health Organisation, Karachi, Peshawar and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) are three main reservoirs of polio virus from where it can be transported to other areas of the country. The government has failed to carry out a single polio vaccination campaign in FATA since 2012 and as such this region is the main source of exportation of polio virus. WHO and Khyber PK government has carried out rigorous campaign in Peshawar and other sensitive districts but lack of any polio eradication activity in FATA has rendered these a futile exercise.

Same is the situation with Baldia and Gadap Town in Karachi where polio teams have little or even no access to administer polio drops.

So far 59 polio cases have been reported from across the country during the current year, majority of these were from FATA, Khyber PK and Sindh. Though no case has been reported from Punjab, wild polio virus has been detected from the sewerage water of Lahore about 3-4 days back.

As polio cases continue to surface from Sindh, Khyber PK and FATA, there is a risk of transportation of crippling virus to Punjab, the officials said.

The Punjab government’s decision comes a day after the WHO imposed travel restrictions on Pakistan, Syria and Cameroon, warning that the crippling disease has re-emerged as a public health emergency. The Punjab Health Department has also decided to establish special centres at all teaching and DHQ hospitals for vaccination of intending travellers.

Medical Superintendents of teaching and DHQ hospitals would issue polio vaccination cards to intending travellers.

The Punjab Health Department has decided to carry out strict monitoring of polio vaccination drive in 10 sensitive districts of the province. An emergency meeting of Polio Monitoring Cell held on Tuesday with Adviser to Chief Minister on Health Kh Salman Rafiq in the chair discussed in detail the post sanctions scenario.

Director Health EPI Dr Munir Ahmed, WHO representative Dr Obaid-ul-Islam and Dr Aslam Chaudhry attended the meeting.

Kh Salman Rafiq said that WHO’s sanctions were unfortunate as Punjab Government has strived hard to combat the crippling virus. He said that the polio could not be eradicated unless all the provinces took sufficient measures. 

The virus currently affects 10 countries worldwide and is endemic in three countries including Pakistan.

Federal government has also announced to set up mandatory polio vaccination points at all international airports in response to the WHO’s recommendations.

“Special measures will include establishing mandatory vaccination counters on all airports, border crossings and seaports for all travellers,” the officials said.

POLIO VACCINATION POINTS TO BE SET UP AT AIRPORTS

AFP adds: Pakistan will set up mandatory polio immunisation points at its international airports in response to recommendations by the World Health Organisation, the health ministry said Tuesday.

The WHO warned Monday that the crippling disease has re-emerged as a public health emergency, with the virus currently affecting 10 countries worldwide and endemic in three including Pakistan.

“Special measures will include establishing mandatory immunisation counters on all airports, border crossings and seaports for all travellers,” said ministry spokesman Sajid Ali Shah.

For urgent travel, at least one vaccine dose should be given before departure, according to the WHO emergency committee, which also called for all travellers to be given certificates proving they have been immunised.

Shah could not confirm whether long-term non-Pakistani residents would also be subject to immunisation under the new initiative.

“That will be decided in a meeting scheduled soon,” he said.

India, which recently celebrated the eradication of the disease, announced in December it would require Pakistanis to obtain vaccination certificates six weeks before cross-border travel.