ISLAMABAD - The World Health Organization (WHO) has decided to maintain the travel restrictions on Pakistan as the wild polio virus (WPV) has not been eliminated completely from the country.

The WHO took this decision during its Emergency Committee meeting on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, head of National Coordinator on Polio Eradication Emergency Operations maintained no new restrictions have been imposed on Pakistan, but the earlier restrictions will continue. 

The statement of the International Health Regulations (IHR) Emergency Committee said that the meeting reviewed the data on the wild polio virus (WPV1) and circulating vaccine derived polio viruses (cVDPV).

According to the statement, restrictions remained continued on the countries including Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria, because the cases of WPV are still being reported from there.

It also mentioned that the most recent polio cases in Pakistan and Afghanistan were detected in the month of January this year. 

It said there are three remaining endemic countries, with Afghanistan and Pakistan being the only two where wild poliovirus transmission is continuing to be reported. 

The Committee noted the continued high degree of cooperation and coordination between Afghanistan and Pakistan, particularly in reaching high risk mobile populations that frequently cross the international border. 

“The committee noted that it is more than four years since there has been international spread outside of these two epidemiologically linked countries,” said the statement.

However, the Committee was ‘very’ concerned over the increase in WPV1 cases globally in 2018, with more cases in the two countries than in 2017.  This trend appears to be continuing in 2019, with six cases already compared to two for the same period in 2018.

Furthermore, international spread between the two countries has continued, after an earlier 10-month period of no international spread between the two neighbours. The committee welcomed that expansion of the target age group for vaccination at the international land border was being implemented on a trial basis in Afghanistan.

The statement mentioned that in Pakistan transmission continues to be widespread, as indicated by the number of positive environmental isolates in many areas of the country. The recent case in Lahore also indicated that vulnerabilities still exist outside the high-risk corridors.

The committee meeting recommended that all three countries including Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria should declare that interruption of poliovirus transmission is a national public health emergency and implements all required measures to support polio eradication. The statement said that these countries should “ensure that all residents and long-term visitors (four weeks) of all ages receive a dose of bivalent oral poliovirus vaccine (bOPV) or inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV) between four weeks and 12 months prior to international travel”.

They should also ensure that those undertaking urgent travel (within four weeks), who have not received a dose of bOPV or IPV in the previous four weeks to 12 months, receive a dose of polio vaccine by the time of departure as this will still provide benefit, particularly for frequent travellers.

“These recommendations apply to international travellers from all points of departure, irrespective of the means of conveyance (e.g. road, air, sea)”, statement the said.

The Emergency Committee urged that these countries should further intensify cross-border efforts by significantly improving coordination at the national, regional and local levels to substantially increase vaccination coverage of travellers crossing the border and of high risk cross-border populations.

It also urged that these countries should maintain these measures until at least six months are passed without new infections and there is documentation of full application of high quality eradication activities in all infected and high risk areas.

“In the absence of such documentation these measures should be maintained until the state meets the assessment criteria for being no longer infected,” it said.

National Coordinator on Polio Eradication Emergency Operations, Rana Muhammad Safdar talking to The Nation said that no new restrictions have been imposed on Pakistan and WHO has continued the 2014 restrictions.