Afghan President kicks off UN-backed polio immunization drive

18 Mar 2009

Afghan President kicks off UN-backed polio immunization drive

KABUL - President Hamid Karzai has kicked off a United Nations-backed polio vaccination drive targeting some 7.7 million children in Afghanistan, one of four countries, along with India, Nigeria and Pakistan, where the disease is still endemic.

By administering the vaccine to children at the presidential palace yesterday, Mr. Karzai launched the campaign, which is led by the Afghan Ministry of Health and supported by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Afghanistan has had four confirmed polio cases so far this year: three from Shahwalikot, Panjwai and Daman districts of Kandahar province, and the fourth from Nadeali district in Helmand.

More than 50,000 staff are engaged in the three-day campaign, covering all 34 provinces and aiming to protect the country’s children from the highly infectious, often paralyzing and sometimes fatal disease.

Contracted through contaminated food, water and faeces, polio mainly affects children under five, attacking the nervous system. One in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis, usually in the legs, and among those paralyzed, five to 10 per cent die when their respiratory muscles become immobilized.

Websites: United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), World Health Organization (WHO)