KARACHI: With 73 cases of poliovirus surfacing this year, travellers to and from Pakistan are expected to face restrictions and guidelines by the international community from January 2014.
Dr Ni’ma Saeed Abid, the World Health Organisation (WHO) country head for Pakistan, said that the three polio-endemic countries – Pakistan, Nigeria and Afghanistan – risk becoming source of spreading wild poliovirus (that occurs naturally).
“The existing alarming situation in Pakistan and especially in the city of Karachi, which has historically been considered as the biggest amplifier and transmitter of the virus, will definitely be discussed during the executive board session of the World Health Organisation (WHO),” Dr Abid told The Express Tribune. “Sensing the gravity of situation, it is expected that a number of member states will formally place the travel restrictions and guidelines for Pakistan, which, on the other hand, are technically in place if we consider the International Health Regulations.”
The WHO executive board, comprising 34 professionals who are technically qualified in the field of health and designated by a member state elected to serve by the World Health Assembly, is set to meet from Jan 25 to Jan 30.
While explaining the WHO’s regulations, he said that all travellers arriving from polio-endemic countries, regardless of age and vaccination status, should receive one dose of oral polio vaccine (OPV) at least six weeks prior to departure and should provide its proof as part of their visa applications.
“As long as polio is eradicated from these last remaining strongholds, the countries should take special measures in allowing a citizen from any endemic polio state to not cross the borders without a valid vaccination certificate,” said Dr Abid, who is an epidemiologist by profession.
Meanwhile, Dr Durre Naz Jamal, the deputy project director at the Sindh Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI), said the question of the imposition of sanctions by the international community has already been raised with top government officials. “This is not a good sign and a number of Pakistanis will face visa rejections [if the situation is not tackled].”
Earlier on Wednesday, the emergence of two poliovirus cases in Karachi within 24 hours had prompted the head of WHO’s polio eradication initiative in Pakistan, Dr Elias Durry, to signal that the city is likely to head towards an ‘explosive polio outbreak’.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 6th, 2013.