A Vigilant Border Polio eradication becomes cross-border imperative for Pakistan, Afghanistan

Photo by Matiullah Achakzai and text by Aurangzaib Khan

: Photo By News Lens Pakistan / Matiullah Achakzai
It has been described as one of the most dangerous borders in the world for geo-strategic reasons. Stretched for 2600 miles, the Durand Line cuts through the Pashtun tribal areas and further south through the Balochistan province, dividing Pashtuns, Baloch and other ethnic groups that live on both sides of the border. It separates Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), Balochsitan and Gilgit Baltistan in northern and western Pakistan from the northeastern and southern provinces of Afghanistan. On the Pakistan side, the Durand Line is recognized as the western border of Pakistan but goes unrecognized in Afghanistan. Photo by Matiullah Achakzai/News Lens Pakistan

 

: Photo By News Lens Pakistan / Matiullah Achakzai
The fact that the border is porous and because people living on both sides – of the narrow strip of Wakhan in Chitral to Taftan in Balochistan – are tied up by common ancestry and heritage, scores of people cross the Durand Line every day to enter Pakistan or Afghanistan. For the last many years, both Torkhum entry point that connects Afghanistan to Khyber Agency in FATA and Peshawar and the Chaman border crossing that connects Balochistan to Kandahar in Afghanistan have been the busiest crossing points in the world. Photo by Matiullah Achakzai/News Lens Pakistan

 

: Photo By News Lens Pakistan / Matiullah Achakzai
At Torkhum, between 10,000 and 15,000 people make the crossing every day whereas the number of vehicles, loaded with items from both sides including the NATO supplies traffic, are registered from 2,000 to 2,500 including the NATO supplies traffic. In Chaman in Balochistan, more than 20,000 people, including children, cross the border daily, according to estimates from Federal Investigation Agency and Frontier Corp. Customs authorities put the number of trucks crossing into Afghanistan between 400 and 500 daily. Photo by Matiullah Achakzai/News Lens Pakistan
: Photo By News Lens Pakistan / Matiullah Achakzai
In recent years, after hostilities over the border that is not recognized by Afghanistan and accusations of militants moving freely across the border, Pakistan – that has hosted more than 4 m Afghan refugees over the last three decades – has actively sought to demarcate the border with trenches. However, terrorism and conflict often overshadows another trend, equally alarming if not more – The transmission of polio virus between both countries. Photo by Matiullah Achakzai/News Lens Pakistan
: Photo By News Lens Pakistan / Matiullah Achakzai
According to news reports, Afghanistan is polio-free except its eastern region that is believed to be affected by continuous import of the virus from Pakistan. Afghanistan has reported two cases of wild polio this year. Previously there were 28 such cases, 10 of which were linked with cross-border transmission from Pakistan. While in the past the virus travelled from Pakistan to Afghanistan, this year three cases have been reported where poliovirus has travelled from Afghanistan to Pakistan. Photo by Matiullah Achakzai/News Lens Pakistan
: Photo By News Lens Pakistan / Matiullah Achakzai
Last week, authorities in Pakistan and Afghanistan that don’t seem to see eye to eye on a many issues agreed to strive jointly for a polio free South Asia. Pakistan and Afghanistan today remain the only countries in the South Asian region afflicted with polio whereas the entire region has been certified as free of the disease. In a border coordination meeting on June 3, the two countries agreed to carry out “joint vigilance” for eradication of polio as one block. Photo by Matiullah Achakzai/News Lens Pakistan
: Photo By News Lens Pakistan / Matiullah Achakzai
There are only two legal entry points on the border – Torkham and Chaman – where polio vaccination is administered. However, many people travel through illegal passes, evading border authorities and polio-vaccination. Moreover there have been complaints about poor quality of vaccination at the legal entry points. Photo by Matiullah Achakzai/News Lens Pakistan
: Photo By News Lens Pakistan / Matiullah Achakzai
At the meeting, authorities decided that focal persons will be appointed at regional level, responsible for implementation of polio-eradication strategies. Both countries have reached an understanding to allow their teams to work together to administer polio drops to children living on the border areas. These children will be administered drops depending on their accessibility and operational activities. Photo by Matiullah Achakzai/News Lens Pakistan
: Photo By News Lens Pakistan / Matiullah Achakzai
According to World Health Organization whose health officials are present at the Chaman border, around 15000 children are vaccinated for polio at Pakistan-Afghanistan Friendship Gate – the border crossing at Chaman. In May 2015, 13000 children are vaccinated at Pakistani side of the Pak-Afghan border alone. The Afghanistan health department has polio teams on their side vaccinating children travelling with families between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Photo by Matiullah Achakzai/News Lens Pakistan
: Photo By News Lens Pakistan / Matiullah Achakzai
Health authorities in Pakistan and Afghanistan have voiced concern over the highly porous nature of the border with heavy and frequent cross border movement, requiring collective efforts to stop polio virus transmission through a robust closely coordinated plan saying “polio anywhere in both the countries means polio everywhere.” The meeting, they said, reflected “the will of both governments to forge a strong partnership with well laid out framework and clearly defined roles and responsibilities and measurable outcomes tied to timelines, to defeat polio.” Photo by Matiullah Achakzai/News Lens Pakistan

 

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