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Pakistan set to vaccinate travellers at airports in polio fight - report

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Wed, 7 May 2014 14:50 GMT
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Polio workers in Pakistan give vaccine drops to a child as police stand guard during a vaccination campaign in Peshawar, capital of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, March 30, 2014. REUTERS/Fayaz Aziz
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NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Pakistan plans to set up mandatory polio immunisation points at all its international airports, the Business Standard newspaper reports.

The move comes after the World Health Organization (WHO) called for emergency measures following the failure of countries like Pakistan to stem the spread of polio, a crippling disease which mainly affects children under five years old.

The WHO recommended that residents and long-term visitors show proof of vaccination before being allowed to leave the country.

The advice also applies to Syria and Cameroon, which along with Pakistan are seen as posing the greatest risk of exporting the crippling virus and undermining a U.N. plan to eradicate it by 2018.

Pakistan's Minister of State for National Health Services Saira Afzal Tarar said the government was making all efforts to make the country polio-free.

"We are planning to set up vaccination centres at all international airports to help travellers meet with the conditions of the WHO," Tarar was quoting as saying.

In its recommendations, the WHO said residents or long-term visitors should get a dose of the vaccine at least four weeks before international travel. In cases of urgent travel the vaccine could be given just before departure.

Pakistan is in the spotlight as the only country with endemic polio that saw cases rise last year. Its caseload rose to 93 from 58 in 2012, accounting for more than a fifth of the 417 cases globally in 2013.

The virus has recently spread to Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel and Syria, and has been found in sewage in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and greater Cairo. It also appeared in China two years ago.

In Pakistan, gunmen frequently attack polio workers, accusing them of being Western spies and part of a plot to sterilise Muslims. In March, militants killed 12 members of the security escort for a polio vaccination, detonating a roadside bomb before opening fire on their convoy.

Until the 1950s, polio crippled thousands every year in rich countries. It attacks the nervous system and can cause irreversible paralysis within hours of infection.

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