ISLAMABAD: The government on Thursday announced that residents of the restive tribal belt would not be able to travel to other parts of the country without getting vaccinated against polio.
The move came days after Pakistan said it would set up mandatory immunisation points at airports to help stop its polio outbreak spreading abroad, in response to new guidelines by the World Health Organisation (WHO). “(The) Prime minister decided to involve (the)... army to ensure security on all FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Area) border points to regulate ingress of people from FATA into settled areas only after polio vaccine has been administered,” a statement from prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s office said.
The World Health Organisation warned on 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 – and urged infected nations to implement vaccine requirements for all international travel. The Taliban and other militants violently oppose polio vaccination campaigns, seeing them as a cover for foreign spying and regularly attacking immunisation teams.
Some 56 people have been killed in such incidents since December 2012. In response to the attacks, officials in April said they would begin administering polio vaccines to children at security checkpoints in the country’s lawless tribal belt. Militants’ opposition to immunisation has increased since Pakistani doctor Shakil Afridi helped the CIA track down terror chief Osama bin Laden in 2011 through a fake vaccine project. Widespread public fears that the vaccine leads to infertility have also contributed to a re-emergence of the disease in Pakistan.
The country recorded 91 cases of polio last year, according to the WHO, up from 58 in 2012. It has also recorded 59 of the world’s 74 cases this year. Meanwhile, the National Coordinator for Polio Eradication Ayesha Raza Farooq called on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Thursday in Islamabad and briefed him on efforts made by the government to eradicate polio. Ayesha was directed to meet Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governor to ensure polio workers had better access to masses.
Polio workers continued to administer polio drops on Thursday under the protection of the army in the Bara tehsil of Khyber tribal region during the fourth phase of polio vaccination drive in the tribal region. The vaccination campaign had begun in July 2012 after the security forces cleared parts of the area from militants’ control. Under the protective cover of the army and Frontier Corps personnel, the polio workers administered polio vaccines to children less than 10 years of age in the Khyber Malikdin Khel area on Thursday. Militants’ activities in the region had rendered Malikdin Khel volatile and a no-go area for some time.
The polio workers said that each phase has a target of about 75,000 children. The fourth phase is currently in progress and, despite adverse circumstances, the polio campaign had achieved 60 percent of the target so far and about 120,000 children have been vaccinated in various parts of the Khyber region since the campaign started in 2012. Dr Wazir Akbar of the National Staff Transmission of Polio in the Khyber tribal area sent a detailed report to the head of the polio campaign which states that polio drops were administered to about 26,878 children during the current phase, which started on May 6 and will go on till the end of this month. He further said that “the army and the Frontier Corps (FC) were providing security cover to the teams that are carrying out the campaign”.
The government has made it compulsory for all travellers moving out of the country to produce a valid polio vaccine certificate from June 1. It was announced in a joint statement issued on Tuesday by the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulation and Coordination (NHSRC) and WHO on the temporary recommendations of international travel to and from Pakistan issued by International Health Regulations (IHR). “Pakistan takes seriously its responsibilities as a signatory to the IHR 2005 and is fully committed to their implementation in letter and spirit,” said the statement.
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