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Pakistan seeks "grace period" from WHO on polio travel measures - report

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Thu, 8 May 2014 13:43 GMT
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Polio workers give polio vaccine drops to a child as police stand guard during a vaccination campaign in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province March 30, 2014. REUTERS/Fayaz Aziz
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NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Pakistan is seeking a 15-day "grace period" from the World Health Organisation (WHO) after it called on some countries to put in place emergency travel measures to stem the spread of the crippling polio virus, the Express Tribune reported on Thursday.

Global emergency measures in Pakistan, Syria and Cameroon are necessary, the WHO said on Monday, as they pose the greatest risk of exporting the virus and undermining a U.N. plan to eradicate polio by 2018.

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

Pakistani authorities held an emergency meeting with WHO representatives on Wednesday, the report said, adding that government officials were angered by the recommendations but said they would comply.

Minister of State for National Health Services Saira Afzal Tarar said the WHO had been asked to give the government 15 days to devise a clear strategy.

"WHO is not taking the Pakistan government on board while taking decisions," Tarar was quoted as saying.

"The Pakistan government is making all-out efforts to gain access in security-compromised areas of Fata (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) and lift a ban imposed by non-state actors in North and South Waziristan, but WHO has ignored this effort and the challenge Pakistan is facing."

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.

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 can be given just before departure.

There are currently not enough vaccines in the country to match the needs of the number of international travellers, the report said, adding that the country will need time to procure more.

In addition to the supplies that it has for national immunisations, Pakistan needs to procure 3.17 million doses to vaccinate the international travellers annually, the report quoted a government health official as saying.

Authorities will also need to set up vaccination booths at airports, land and sea borders which can vaccinate and issue certification to travellers.

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.

The highly contagious virus often spreads in areas with poor sanitation and children under five are the most vulnerable.

 

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