Islamabad : The World Health Organization is being questioned by Pakistan’s Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination (NHSRC) to provide scientific evidence and clarify the issue of the safety of administering Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV) to pregnant women traveling abroad from Pakistan. There is a major confusion prevailing, as the WHO guidelines state that OPV is safe during pregnancy, while many authorities give contraindications against taking OPV during pregnancy.
The clarification is being requested after the ministry’s was notified about several expert gynaecologists who are advising pregnant women (passengers) not to take OPV.
According to reported statements from sources in the ministry, there have also been instances where some pregnant ladies presenting at points of exit contended that OPV was contraindicated in their case, and they should, therefore, be allowed to proceed abroad without vaccination. To substantiate their claim, they presented outdoor tickets and prescriptions of gynaecologists, advising them against taking OPV, since it carried live attenuated poliovirus, which according to them, could potentially harm the foetus.
In a letter addressed to WHO Representative to Pakistan; Dr. Michel Jean Jules Thieren, the ministry has pointed out that even though, according to WHO guidelines, OPV is not contraindicated in pregnancy, and the SOPs and certificates of vaccination issued by the ministry of NHSRC also clearly indicate that all intending travelers, including pregnant women, shall be immunized against polio with OPV, some confusion still persists.
The letter further states that; “In the light of the above situation, this ministry seeks a clarification from WHO on the matter based on scientific evidence available internationally. If deemed necessary, leading paediatricians and gynaecologists may be consulted and their opinion taken into account prior to sending a response to the ministry.”
It may be mentioned that inactivated polio vaccine is currently not available in the public sector and only OPV is being administered to all intending travelers.
In May this year, the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee made it mandatory for international travelers from Pakistan to get vaccinated against polio. The measure was necessitated after the WHO declared polio as constituting a public health emergency of international concern, and announced special measures to curtail its spread.