In an effort to keep the polio virus from spreading between countries, the World Health Organization (WHO) recently recommended that all residents and long-term visitors in Pakistan, Cameroon, and Syria be immunized and obtain a certificate of verification before traveling. According to the WHO, these countries pose the greatest risk of exporting polio.

The certificates will do little to stop the cross-border spread of the virus, wrote Richard Cash, senior lecturer in global health at Harvard School of Public Health, in a Lancet editorial. Many people cross borders illegally, and those who don’t may travel with forged papers. What’s more, there will likely be political consequences, Cash wrote, with other countries limiting travelers from the three locations.

The editorial was published online June 28, 2014.

“Pakistan has done a good job of immunizing its citizens and controlling the spread of polio, especially given the political situation, and should not be punished because of factors over which it has limited control,” Cash wrote, citing opposition to immunization by some tribal groups and the Taliban. “It is time for the public health community to move beyond country borders in the overall control of infectious diseases.”

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