NEW DELHI, July 11 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Pakistanis seeking to travel overseas have used fake polio vaccination certificates to circumvent rules put in place to stem the spread of the crippling virus, the Dawn newspaper reported.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) in May advised Pakistan, Syria and Cameroon to put in place emergency travel measures as they pose the greatest risk of exporting the virus and undermining a U.N. plan to eradicate polio by 2018.
The WHO recommended that residents and long-term visitors to these three countries be vaccinated and show proof of vaccination before being allowed to travel.
But since the rule was put in place in Pakistan in June, immigration staff at Islamabad's Benazir Bhutto International Airport told the Dawn newspaper they had found around 150 polio certificates to be counterfeit.
An airport official, who declined to be named, said that some people had obtained fake certificates because they believed the vaccine could endanger their health.
The report cited the example of a Pakistani man who was travelling to the Middle East, but was stopped by immigration staff when they discovered his certificate was fake. The man said it was sold to him by a man working at photocopying store for 200 rupees ($2).
The immigration official said that although rules have been put in place to check that passengers have certificates, airport staff do not have the power to prevent those without a certificate from travelling.
"We have tried to convince people that vaccine is in their own benefit but they do not understand. I believe that issue can only be resolved if the government decides that every person has to get vaccination card before applying for the visa," the official was quoted as saying.
Director General of the Health Ministry Qazi Abdus Saboor told the newspaper that ministry was trying to increase public awareness about the emergency travel measures.
"I was not aware of fake vaccination cards. I will ask the airport officials to take legal action against the persons who show counterfeit cards because this is the only way to stop the people from this practice," he said.
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.
Pakistan is in the spotlight as the only country with endemic polio that saw cases rise last year. It accounted 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.