Pakistan to set up polio vaccination points at airports

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Pakistan will set up mandatory polio immunization points at its international airports in response to recommendations by the World Health Organization, the health ministry said Tuesday, May 6.

The WHO warned Monday that the crippling disease has re-emerged as a public health emergency, with the virus currently affecting 10 countries worldwide and endemic in three including Pakistan.

"Special measures will include establishing mandatory immunisation counters on all airports, border crossings and seaports for all travellers," said ministry spokesman  Sajid Ali Shah.

The WHO had called on Pakistan, Cameroon and Syria, seen as posing the greatest risk of exporting wild poliovirus, to ensure all residents and long-term visitors receive a polio vaccine between 4 weeks and a year before traveling abroad.

For urgent travel, at least one vaccine dose should be given before departure, according to the emergency committee, which also called for all travelers to be given certificates proving they have been immunized.

Shah could not confirm whether long-term non-Pakistani residents would also be subject to immunization under the new initiative.

"That will be decided in a meeting scheduled soon," he said.

According to the WHO, Pakistan recorded 91 cases of polio last year, up from 58 in 2012. It has also recorded 59 of the world's 74 cases this year.

The disease has re-emerged in Pakistan because the Taliban and other militants violently oppose inoculation campaigns and because of public fears that the vaccine leads to infertility.

Militants see the polio campaign as a cover for foreign spying and regularly attack immunization teams, killing some 56 people since December 2012.

Their opposition has increased since a Pakistani doctor helped track down terror chief Osama bin Laden in 2011 using a fake vaccine project.

Last month officials announced they would begin administering polio drops to children at security checkpoints in the country's lawless tribal belt.

India, which recently celebrated the eradication of the disease, announced in December it would require Pakistanis to obtain vaccination certificates six weeks before cross-border travel. –