1.2 million children to be reached in polio immunization drive

13 Sep 2009

1.2 million children to be reached in polio immunization drive

KABUL - 1.2 million children in southern, south-eastern, western and eastern Afghanistan will be targeted by a new three-day polio eradication drive starting today.

The immunization campaign comes shortly after Afghanistan’s health authorities reported one new case of the polio virus in the West of the country.

The latest drive is part of an ongoing effort to eradicate polio in Afghanistan – one of just four countries in the world still affected by the crippling disease.

On the occasion of the International Day of Peace observed on 21 September each year this special campaign aims to vaccinate children under five years old in selected districts.

More than 15,000 health workers will travel from house to house in eight provinces – Ghor, Farah, Uruzgan, Helmand, Kandahar, Khost, Kunar and Nangarhar.

As many families are unable to access health facilities in the rural parts of Afghanistan this mobile approach is seen as essential in ensuring that every child in the target group is reached.

In the South, vaccination activities targeting a total of 660,000 children are planned in 13 high-risk and difficult to reach districts in the provinces of Helmand, Kandahar and Uruzgan.

The campaign is synchronized with vaccination activities across the border in Pakistan.

1.4 million doses of monovalent oral polio vaccine are required for this latest campaign which is led by Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Health and supported by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization.

Four rounds of nation-wide house to house vaccination campaign (NIDs), targeting almost 7.5 million children, were implemented up to August 2009.

Two rounds of sub-national campaigns (SNIDs) were conducted for the southern, south east and eastern regions to stop and prevent the virus from spreading to other parts of the country.

“Peace is essential for access and herewith to reach all children with our polio immunization efforts,” said the Minister of Public Health Dr Sayed Amin Fatemi, on the occasion of this years’ Peace Day Campaign.

Circulation of wild polio virus continues, though it is limited to a few districts.

31 cases were reported in 2008 and 20 cases in 2009 up until the end of August.

“Polio is an issue of common interest,” said Peter Graaff, WHO Representative in Afghanistan.

He appealed to local leaders to assist vaccination teams regardless of their tribal, ethnic, religious and political affiliation: “I strongly believe that community level partnership and ownership generate more demand for vaccination, support for the vaccination teams and a well deserved pride in ensuring a better health and future of the children in villages, districts and indeed the entire country.”

He added: “Our priority is to increase access to vaccinate children in security affected areas and also ensure safety of vaccination teams with the aim to completely interrupt the poliovirus circulation.”

With 20 cases of polio reported in 2009, the Ministry of Public Health and its partners and major donors for the eradication of polio are redoubling efforts to ensure every child under the age of five receives polio vaccine.

UNICEF Representative in Afghanistan, Catherine Mbengue is urging families in the eight provinces to look out for vaccination teams and make their children available to receive the vaccine.

“Peace is necessary to access to all children and vaccinate them against polio,” she said.

“It takes just a few seconds to immunize a child – but the results last for a lifetime. Unless we eradicate polio in Afghanistan, the virus will continue to disable children, placing even greater strains upon families. Polio is not just a health issue – it has implications for the social and economic development of Afghanistan. Peace and polio constitute a vital cycle for the future of Afghanistan.”

Website: Ministry of Public Health Afghanistan

Website: UNICEF Afghanistan

Website: WHO

Website: Special UNAMA Peace Day website