26 July 2012 – About 27,000 health workers, volunteers and community mobilizers fanned out across 16 provinces of Afghanistan over the past two weeks in a drive to eradicate measles and polio from the country under a UN-supported Government campaign. At the same time the Health Ministers of Afghanistan and Pakistan agreed yesterday to collaborate on anti-polio drives in order to reach children living along both country’s border.
The campaign implemented by the Afghan Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) earlier this month vaccinated more than 8 million children between nine months and 10 years of age with one dose of measles. The children were also administered anti-polio drops.
Yesterday’s announcement in Kabul is important because Afghanistan and Pakistan are considered one epidemiological block because they share a long and porous border with many formal and informal crossing points. Stopping the spread of the polio virus in these countries requires close coordination, particularly in the border areas on both sides. As of July 15, a total of 13 confirmed polio cases have been reported in Afghanistan in 2012. There have been 25 reported cases in Pakistan. Most of these cases have occurred in neighboring provinces across the border between these two countries.
Mohammad Taufiq Mashal, the General-Director of Preventive Medicine at the Ministry, said this was the first phase of the campaign involving both anti-polio and anti-measles vaccinations. The second phase, which will start in September, will include the remaining 18 provinces of Afghanistan.
“This is not a door-to-door campaign; however children received doses of measles vaccine in public places such as mosques, schools and parks,” said Mr Mashal. “The response of the people to this campaign was quite heartening and they are extending all possible cooperation to make it a success.”
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) in Afghanistan, which is one of the lead UN agencies that supported the Government in this campaign, there was the plan to cover all 34 provinces during this campaign, but the limited amount of fund available was enough only to cover 16 of them. WHO, MoPH and partners are looking for funds to cover the remaining provinces in the next phase.
On July 10, at a vaccination centre in District 5 of Kabul, the district campaign coordinator, Dr Saboor, said 35 teams are busy in his district alone. “People are informed through announcements by the loudspeakers of mosques. Team members also go door-to-door to inform the people about the campaign,” said Dr Saboor, adding that more people are joining this campaign as compared to previous years.
WHO said Afghanistan – based on routine immunization coverage and epidemiological surveillance – has to repeat measles campaign every 2-4 years.
The country started its first measles elimination drive in 2001 by conducting a nationwide immunization campaign, and two follow-up anti-measles campaigns were implemented in 2006 and 2009.
As part of global measles elimination campaign called “The Measles and Rubella Initiative”, Afghanistan has committed to eliminate measles by the end of 2015. Considering the lower routine measles coverage and frequent outbreaks of measles, MoPH decided to conduct anti-measles campaign this year after consulting with its partners.
The Measles and Rubella Initiative, launched in 2001, supports vaccination campaigns worldwide. More than 1 billion children have received a measles vaccination as a result of the Initiative. Globally, routine immunization has increased from 72percent to 85 percent and measles deaths have decreased by 74 percent, between 2000 and 2010.
In Afghanistan, MoPH is responsible for overall planning, management, training, implementation, and monitoring of the campaign, while WHO provides technical and financial support in all aspects of the campaign including post-campaign assessment.
On polio, the number of endemic countries has dropped from 123 in 1988 to three in 2012 as a consequence of concerted global efforts. Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria are still the endemic countries. WHO said there was large polio outbreak in Afghanistan with reporting of 80 confirmed cases in 2011 - a three-fold increase compared to 25 polio cases reported in 2010. Eleven polio cases have been reported in Afghanistan as of 8 July this year.
WHO in Afghanistan