India imposes polio restriction for Pakistani travellers

ISLAMABAD (AFP) - Pakistanis travelling to India will require mandatory polio vaccination, the Indian embassy said, tightening cross-border travel rules with a new policy which also affects other nations impacted by the crippling disease.

Pakistan, one of only three countries where polio remains endemic, has struggled to combat the disease after the Pakistani Taliban banned polio immunisation following a fake CIA vaccination programme meant to help track Al Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden.

The ban last year has led to a surge in polio cases in Pakistan that threatens worldwide efforts to eradicate the infectious disease, which is also endemic in Nigeria and Afghanistan.

"All persons - adults and children - travelling to India from Pakistan after Jan 30, 2014 are required to obtain Oral Polio Vaccination (OPV) at least six week prior to their departure to India," the Indian high commission (embassy) in Islamabad said in a statement on Wednesday.

"The step is being taken to safeguard India's polio-free status attained after sustained efforts and investment," it said, adding that "evidence of polio vaccination will be requested for entry into India".

The statement said the new policy is applicable to travellers not just from Pakistan but all countries where polio is endemic or where cases of the disease are reported.

The new measure will potentially make cross-border travel harder for Pakistanis - hundreds of thousands of whom have families in India separated in the 1947 partition.

Nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan agreed last year to ease visa restrictions, reflecting demands in both nations for closer people-to-people ties.

"The new requirement by India will certainly add to hassles as all those travelling to India will now have to obtain and append OPV records with their visa applications," said Islamabad-based travel agent Hassan Rizvi.

"But I don't think this new requirement will discourage people from travelling to India... to see their relatives or for family reunions," he added.

Opposition from militant groups has hampered efforts to immunise children in Pakistan, with vaccination teams murdered in some cases.

Officials blame the violence and suspicions about the vaccine for a surge in cases. According to the World Health Organisation, Pakistan recorded 72 cases of polio this year compared to 58 in 2012.

The WHO said last month that an outbreak of polio that affected more than a dozen children in war-torn Syria was linked to a strain of the virus from Pakistan.

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