The Pakistan 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.
An official in the Ministry of NHSRC who requested anonymity said it will be mandatory from June 1 for people of all ages to receive polio drops and produce a certificate before travelling out of the country.
“A template for the required vaccination certificate has been prepared in compliance with the IHR format. Meanwhile, until printing of the template has been completed, the certificate can be issued on plain paper with the required stamps from health officials,” said the official.
The official said that both the federal and provincial governments since the May 5 travel restrictions have started initiating the strategy and working for effective implementation.
“However, as said earlier this entire process requires time for the full implementation of the strategy. It is because one of the major challenges it is facing is to ensure the availability of polio vaccines, certificate and human resources at every airport, dry port and exit points at country borders and hospitals,” said the official.
WHO Acting Country Representative in Pakistan Dr Nima Saeed Abid said though travel restrictions on Pakistan were effective from May 5 this year, the country was given some time for its effective and complete implementation.
“WHO has no issue on this as it completely depends on the country’s government how they implement it,” he said.
He further said, however, that the World Health Assembly (WHA) is scheduled from May 19 to 24 and it would have been better for Pakistan to tell the international community that so far they have implemented this strategy.
Dr Abid said that Pakistan requires over 300 million polio vaccines per year to vaccinate people moving out of the country.
National steering committee meeting on polio
A National Steering Committee for Polio Eradication met on Tuesday at the Prime Minister’s Secretariat to review the current situation of polio in the country as well as progress made in light of the IHR temporary recommendation for Pakistan travellers.
It was chaired by Ayesha Raza Farooq, the premier’s Focal Person for Polio Eradication.
Dr Waqar Ajmal, Senior Program Officer at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, highlighted the importance of preparatory phase of every campaign which is not being managed according to the National Emergency Action Plan at different levels.
“This is a time to further strengthen the surveillance system as we have seen some weaknesses in it,” he said.
Dr Abid shared that the existence of the virus shows weakness in the areas where the quality of polio campaigns is not being maintained and there is a poor mechanism for overseeing the drives.
The National Technical Focal Person, PM Polio Monitoring Cell shared that around $249 million have been secured by the government to fully support implementation of the Emergency Action Plan and this support is sufficient till 2015 with a gap of only $35 million.
Ayesha Raza Farooq said, “The government of Pakistan is fully committed to ensuring full compliance with the IHR emergency committee recommendations once the final guidelines are shared.”
While major international airports in the country have set up polio booths for the vaccination of travellers going abroad, no booth has been set up at the Islamabad airport.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 14th, 2014.