ISLAMABAD - As Pakistan origin polio-virus has been found in Egypt that remains polio-free since 2004, the national and international partners in Pakistan’s Polio Eradication Initiative have asked the government to ensure vaccination for children leaving Pakistan.

The Prime Minister’s Polio Monitoring and Coordination Cell, World Health Organisation, United Nations Children’s Fund - UNICEF and partners in Pakistan’s Polio Eradication Initiative, in a joint statement, have called for urgent pre-emptive measures against exportation of the poliovirus after positive samples linked to the Sukkur District of Sindh were discovered in Egypt.  Two sewage samples collected from the Al Salam and Al Haggana areas of the Cairo district when collected and analyzed in a laboratory bore resemblance to a strain discovered recently in sewage water tested in Sukkur.

As a pre-emptive measure and to reduce the possibility of spread of the polio-virus beyond Pakistan’s borders, the government’s Polio Monitoring and Coordination Cell has advised all provincial governments and federal administration to set up permanent vaccination countres inside international departure lounges of all airports so that all children under five years leaving the country are vaccinated against the polio-virus.  The Prime Minister’s Polio Monitoring and Co-ordination Cell has already asked the Sindh government to improve its polio immunisation efforts to stop transmission of the polio virus in the province on an emergency basis.

Prime Minister’s Focal Person on Polio Eradication, Shahnaz Wazir Ali, has stated, “importation of polio virus is a stark reminder of the risks associated with active poliovirus transmission in the country, and the need to make efforts to stop the transmission on urgent basis in Pakistan.” Though, the virus has not infected any child in Egypt and the country remains polio-free since 2004, the Egyptian Ministry of Health has ordered immediate vaccination of all children less than 5 years in the localities near Cairo from where the Pakistan origin virus was discovered. Dr. Ahmed Omar of the Ministry of Health and Population in Egypt has stated that the Ministry will start a campaign to vaccinate children under-five against polio in Ezbet Hagana Peace and Kaliobeya in Cairo.

Recently, the Independent Monitoring Board had also recommended international travel restrictions for the three polio endemic countries under the International Health Regulations. “The assessment of the IMB reflects the global concern over Pakistan and other polio endemic countries, however regarding travel restrictions, it is understandable that every polio free country would like to maintain its polio-free status and may consider taking steps to avoid importation of the virus,” stated the Emergency Coordinator for Polio Eradication at the WHO, Dr. Elias Durry.

Pakistan took major strides in 2012 with a 71 per cent reduction in the number of polio cases with all but 28 districts free of polio virus transmission. The recent security related incidents in parts of the country have exposed children to risk of contracting polio, a disease that causes permanent paralysis in young children. Poliovirus type 3 has not been found in Pakistan since April 2012, whereas environmental samples have been found mostly negative for the poliovirus except for a few sites in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh.  According to Unicef’s acting head of polio unit, Michael Coleman, it reinforces the urgent need of all caregivers across Pakistan to vaccinate children under five-year of age against polio through the nearest health facility or through campaign vaccination teams.

The country had reported 58 polio cases last year whereas this year, no polio case has been reported so far.