The government has sought the assistance of the Imam-e-Kaaba in order to address misconceptions about the polio vaccine.
Minister of States for National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination Saira Afzal Tarar told The Express Tribune that she is actively pursuing the proposed visit of the Imam-e-Kaaba with the presidency.
“I have a follow up meeting in the Presidency on Thursday to discuss all the modalities of this high-profile visit. We need to remove the misconceptions on the polio vaccination” she said.
Plans for the visit are being chalked out as a two-day conference in Geneva kicked off on Wednesday where international experts are considering travel restrictions on Pakistan in order to curb the spread of the virus.
Tarar said Pakistan’s government is cognizant of the threat of international restrictions on travel due to the virus and said the PM’s Focal Person on Polio Eradication Ayesha Raza Farooq is in Geneva to defend Pakistan’s case.
India was declared polio-free in 2009 and announced in December last year that Pakistanis travelling to the country will be required to present a vaccination certificate. According to officials of the Indian High Commission, travel restrictions on Pakistan will be effective from February 14. Pakistani visitors, regardless of their age, will have to get an oral polio vaccination at least six weeks prior to travel to India.
Georgia has now followed suit and Pakistanis will be required to carry vaccination records at all times in order to enter the former Soviet republic, an official of the PM’s polio eradication cell told The Express Tribune.
There are concerns that if such restrictions are imposed under the aegis of the WHO, Pakistan will have to bear a significant financial and administration cost as every Pakistani travelling abroad will have to carry a vaccination certificate.
Tarar also plans to meet with Irfan Siddiqui, a member of the government’s committee in talks with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, as she says the government will include a clause regarding an end to attacks on polio vaccination teams in the talks.
“No anti-polio campaign has been conducted in North and South Waziristan for the past two years,” officials of the PM’s polio cell said. After the outcome of the Geneva meeting, the government will come up with a new strategy to deal with the issue, Tarar added.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 6th, 2014.