Peace Day 2009: Let the vaccinators through
KABUL - As Peace Day 21 September approaches UNAMA is featuring articles from UN agencies on the work the UN is doing for peace in Afghanistan. 4: World Health Organization
War has a profound negative impact on human health. In addition to direct consequences, including the fact that 90 per cent of all deaths related to recent wars were among civilians, war has several indirect consequences.
These include long-term physical and psychological adverse health effects; damage to the social fabric and infrastructure of society; displacement of people; damage to the environment; drainage of human, financial, and other resources away from public health and other socially productive activities; and fostering a culture of violence.
The association between violent conflict and health was stressed in 1981 when the World Health Assembly passed a resolution that acknowledged the role of physicians and other health workers in the preservation and promotion of peace as the most important factor for the attainment of Health for All.
Polio-eradication campaigns provide a great example of the role health and health professionals can play to mitigate the effect of wars, to alleviate the suffering of the populations affected and/or to provide them with the necessary health protection.
This story deserves to be told in some detail.
Most of Afghanistan is polio free. Circulation of the virus is now limited to the conflict zone in the South were inaccessible unvaccinated children are keeping the chain of polio virus circulation intact. Innovative measures have been introduced to access the children, so far with partial success.
The Polio Eradication Programme regularly shares information, and in negotiation with parties to the conflict, has recruited access negotiators, works through NGOs, and aims to educate the local population including mothers and community leaders using and information campaign.
Each year, four to six National Immunization Days (NIDs) and four-five sub-national vaccination rounds in the high-risk regions are conducted. During the NIDs, 7.5 million children are vaccinated by 52,000 health staff and volunteers all over the country using house-to-house vaccination campaigns.
Social mobilization and community involvement are essential components of the program. In districts where the polio virus still circulates, more than 700 community mobilizers – including mullahs, teachers, community elders, Community Health Workers and courtyard women are involved in the Programme.
Community-based surveillance is the hallmark of the system. This community-based surveillance network includes more than 10,000 Reporting Volunteers (mullahs, traditional healers, pharmacists and shrine keepers) who are linked to the nearest health facility.
This network allows us to maintain a sensitive surveillance system meeting all global standards.
Cross-Border AFG / PAK coordination is another important feature of the programme. Vaccination campaigns are synchronized and information is shared on a regular basis. At 11 cross-border vaccination posts, almost 1.5 million children five years old and younger are vaccinated annually.
Health diplomacy took place when the Health Ministers of Afghanistan and Pakistan met at the Torkham border to vaccinate the children from each other’s country.
The whole world is watching our work in Afghanistan. The UN Secretary-General has recently dedicated an award given to him to the Polio Heroes in Afghanistan who gave their lives on a mission to prepare for the Peace Day immunization round in Spin Boldak in September last year.
The UN Secretary-General also indicated that he will continue to appeal to all parties to the conflict to allow our vaccination teams access to be able to vaccinate each and every child without interference.
Polio Eradication will be a key component of the UN Peace Day celebrations by providing vaccination services in the thirteen highest-risk districts in the Southern region from 13-15 September.
We are appealing all parties to the conflict to cease their fighting on these days and allow our vaccinators to reach all children in order to save them from this crippling disease and thereby help us achieve the goal of Polio-Free Afghanistan.
By Peter Graff, WHO Representative