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NEW DELHI : New Delhi: Union health minister Mansukh Mandaviya on Sunday said the central government will vaccinate returnees from Afghanistan with polio vaccines as a preventive measure against the wild poliovirus.

“We have decided to vaccinate Afghanistan returnees with free Polio Vaccine-OPV & fIPV, as a preventive measure against Wild Polio Virus," Union health minister Mansukh Mandaviya tweeted. "Congratulations to the health team for their efforts to ensure public health," he said. India is free of poliovirus.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) WPV1 (wild poliovirus) transmission continues to fall in the world, with no new case since January 2021 when two WPV1 cases occurred, one each from Pakistan and Afghanistan, compared to 94 WPV1 cases during the same time period in 2020. The risk of international spread of WPV1 appears to continue due to increasing civil war in Afghanistan with population movement increasing, including into Pakistan.

In the case of India, estimates are that there could be up to 300 of its citizens in Afghanistan. India has been evacuating its people using the Tajikistan and Qatar routes. An Air India flight with around 90 passengers is expected to land in New Delhi soon, officials said.

Earlier this week, the Indian Air Force (IAF) operated a special flight to evacuate 120 Indian citizens, including the ambassador to Afghanistan and embassy staff.

India is also conducting RT-PCR tests on all returnees from Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, the global public health agency expressed concern about Afghanistan.

“Months of violence have taken a heavy toll on Afghanistan’s fragile health system, which had already been facing shortages in essential supplies amid the covid-19 pandemic, Dr. Ahmed Al-Mandhari, WHO regional director, said.

He said in areas where people have fled to seek safety and shelter, including Kabul and other large cities, field reports indicate that there are increasing cases of diarrhoea, malnutrition, high blood pressure, covid-19-like symptoms and reproductive health complications.

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