Peace Day polio immunization drive reaches almost 1.2 million children

21 Sep 2009

Peace Day polio immunization drive reaches almost 1.2 million children

KABUL - Almost 1.2 million Afghan children have benefited from polio immunization that was conducted for the International Day of Peace in eight provinces, including some of the country's hardest to reach areas such as Kandahar, Uruzgan, and Helmand.

At the end of the three-day long drive, about 97.5 per cent of the targeted children were immunized, with health workers unable to reach only 13 of the intended 593 locations.

The immunization drive was part of the ongoing effort to eradicate polio in Afghanistan, which is one of just four remaining polio-endemic countries.

“This is better than any immunization round in Afghanistan in the past 18 months,” said Peter Graaff, Country Representative for the World Health Organization (WHO). “We are quite excited as such high coverage gives us a better chance than ever to get rid of polio,” he added.

The polio drive was a joint effort by the Afghan health authorities, WHO and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

It was also supported by actors including the International Committee of the Red Cross as well as health NGOs.

The Taliban agreed not to block access to health workers involved in the campaign.

"With only few locations missed by vaccinators during this Peace Polio Campaign, we celebrate today the chance given to children to grow up in a polio-free Afghanistan," said Catherine Mbengue, UNICEF Representative in Afghanistan.

According to the Public Health Minister Dr Sayed Amin Fatimi, this immunization round, involving 14,000 health workers and volunteers, was a great success.

"A campaign like this, whether on a national or sub-national level, is very important. It promotes peace and stability in the country. Day-to-day coverage is increasing in troubled provinces, and it is bringing us closer to our goal of a polio-free Afghanistan," said Dr Fatimi.

Since 2007 Afghanistan’s Peace Day campaigns have resulted in polio immunization for 4.5 million children in the country’s most insecure areas.

In 2008, Peace Day also saw a 70 per cent reduction in violent incidents.