Via Dawn.com: WHO puts shackles on Pakistan over polio. Excerpt:
ISLAMABAD: The inevitable has finally happened. To prevent the possible spread of the polio virus from Pakistan to other countries, the World Health Organisation (WHO) decided on Monday to impose strict travel restrictions on the country.
The decision was taken on the recommendation of the emergency committee of WHO, which had met on April 28 and suggested imposing travel restriction on Pakistan because of the continuous increase in polio cases in the country.
An official who works for WHO said that last year 60 per cent polio cases were a result of the international spread of the wild poliovirus. There was evidence that adult travellers contributed to this spread, he added.
Although polio only affects children, adults can be carriers of the disease.
The Minister of State for National Health Services, Saira Afzal Tarar, said that the government would try to address the concerns of the WHO so that by the next assessment (the decision will be reviewed in three months), the travel restrictions are reversed.
She said that the restrictions had been imposed on Syria and Cameroon along with Pakistan, while seven countries were warned to control the virus.
“I tried to avoid the ban by suggesting that the sanctions should be applicable on the Federally Administered Tribal Area, but the WHO said that it only dealt with international boundaries.”
Pakistan’s polio problem
The spread of polio in Pakistan has been a big worry for the past few years.
The virus strain of polio found in the country has affected as many as five countries over the past two years, becoming a serious threat to other countries.
Individual countries had already taken steps to stop the spread.
In February, India had banned the entry of travellers from Pakistan unless they had taken Oral Polio Vaccination (OPV) at least six week before the visit.
Saudi Arabia had back in 2000 made it mandatory that every Pakistani (children and adults) had taken OPV at the time of entry in that country.
Within Pakistan, each successive year has witnessed a higher number of children diagnosed with polio.
For example, in the first four months of the current year, 59 cases of polio have been recorded. The corresponding period last year witnessed only eight cases.
There is no single reason for the spread of the disease; the factors range from irrational fears to a limited campaign to militancy.
Many people appear to believe that the polio vaccine can cause fertility problems or that it is against Islam. The inefficacy of the drugs being used to vaccinate is also a problem as is the internal displacement due to which children have missed doses.
The problem was compounded by the killing of Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011 – Dr Shakil Afridi is seen to have helped trace Osama through a fake polio vaccination drive, which too prejudiced people against the campaign. And since the incident, the Taliban and other militants have also opposed the polio vaccination campaign more aggressively.
All these factors have ensured that the government efforts remain sketchy at best.
An official of the ministry of national health services said that despite all the efforts of the ministry to raise awareness about the Extended Programme of Immunisation (EPI) in December last year, 47,099 children were missed all over Pakistan because their parents refused the vaccination.
And the resistance by the militants can be gauged from the fact that 40 polio workers and security officials have been killed during polio campaigns.
Actually, Dr. Afridi's bogus vaccination program was for hepatitis B, but the effect was certainly disastrous on the polio campaign.