ISLAMABAD/PEShawar - The government on Thursday announced that residents of its Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) would not be able to travel to other parts of the country without getting vaccinated against polio.
The move came days after Pakistan said it would set up mandatory immunisation points at airports to help stop its polio outbreak spreading abroad, in response to new guidelines by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The WHO warned on 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 - and urged infected nations to implement vaccine requirements for all international travel.
Some 56 people have been killed in such incidents since December 2012. Most of the polio cases were reported from Fata and the federal cabinet in its Thursday’s meeting decided that the people from Fata must be immunised before they could travel to other areas of the country to contain the virus.
Chairing the meeting, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif reiterated his government’s resolve of utilising all available resources to make country polio free. The government, he said, was working on war-footing to eradicate polio from the country.
“(The) prime minister decided to involve (the)... Army to ensure security on all Fata border points to regulate ingress of people from Fata into settled areas only after polio vaccine has been administered,” a statement from PM Office said.
The PM told his cabinet that he is personally supervising the Polio Eradication Program and he would ensure that all the issues and problems being faced in the implementation of the program are resolved immediately. He also directed that an extensive awareness campaign be carried out to dispel the misconceptions about polio vaccination.
The cabinet was briefed by National Coordinator for Polio Eradication Ayesha Raza Farooq regarding barriers, challenges faced by the polio program and the way forward for making the program a success. The cabinet was informed that 90 % of Pakistan was polio free and the virus is present in only some isolated areas of Fata and Karachi. It was also informed that this year cases have been reported only in conflict-ridden areas, which shows that the inaccessibility of field vaccination workers is the main reason behind reported cases.
The prime minister directed that filed workers should be provided security in coordination with provincial governments and wherever necessary the services of Pakistan Army may also be utilised. He also told Ayesha that he would himself be monitoring the issue keeping in view the gravity of the situation. She was directed to meet Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governor to ensure better access and coverage of polio workers to the masses.
The Taliban and other militants violently oppose polio vaccination campaigns, seeing them as a cover for foreign spying and regularly attacking immunisation teams. In response to the attacks, officials in April said they would begin administering polio vaccines to children at security checkpoints in the country’s lawless tribal belt.
Militants’ opposition to immunisation has increased since Pakistani doctor Shakil Afridi helped the CIA track down terror chief Osama bin Laden in 2011 through a fake vaccine project. Widespread public fears that the vaccine leads to infertility have also contributed to a re-emergence of the disease in Pakistan.
Staff reporter adds from Peshawar: Fourth phase of polio eradication campaign supported by Pakistan Army and Frontier Corps was launched on Thursday at the Malakdinkhel area of Bara in Khyber Agency. The fourth phase is currently in progress and, despite adverse circumstances, the polio campaign has achieved 60 percent of the target so far, the officials said. About 120,000 children have already been vaccinated in various parts of the Khyber region since the campaign started in 2012. The drive will go on till the end of this month.
National Staff Polio Eradication Officer Dr Wazir Akbar told the media that in the first phase door-to-door campaign was started in January 2013. He said that they have planned to administer drops to 40,000 children in the current phase with the support of security forces. A religious scholar Muhammad Khan speaking on the occasion said that polio drops were useful for all children and there was no prohibition in Islam. He said that several religious scholars have issued edict in support of polio vaccination to save their children from the crippling disease. Residents of the area while talking to The Nation said that they would get polio drops administered to their children.
Agencies add:Another polio case surfaced in Khyber Agency on Thursday, taking the total number of polio cases in the country to 62. The latest case was reported in a 27-month-old boy Mir Fayyaz, a resident of Tehsil Bara of Khyber Agency. Since January to date, a total of 48 cases of polio have been reported in Fata. Four cases are reported from South Waziristan.
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 four weeks and a year before travelling abroad. Pakistan recorded 91 cases of polio last year, according to the WHO, up from 58 in 2012. It has also recorded 59 of the world’s 74 cases this year. 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.