Thousands of children vaccinated for polio

13 Oct 2009

Thousands of children vaccinated for polio

KABUL - A United Nations supported three-day national polio vaccination campaign has seen the administration of polio drops to thousands of children in eastern Afghanistan over the first two days.

Dr Khushhal Khan Zaman, the head of the eastern regional office of the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO), said three kinds of teams – joined by thousands of volunteers and health workers – have carried out the campaign, the fifth this year.

The last and the sixth National Immunization Days are in December, while vaccination in the east of the country will also be carried out in November.

Of the 10 polio campaigns planned for this year – six national and four region-specific – eight have already been conducted.

The three teams – fixed teams, door-to-door teams and floating teams – include about 500 women in the eastern regional hub of Jalalabad, according to Dr Zaman.

“It was quite peaceful,” he said adding that more than 5,000 volunteers, including workers who inform the communities about the vaccine and health staff, have been mobilized in the four provinces of the region.

The fixed teams go to hospitals and clinics, while the floating teams go to transit points, marketplaces and bridges, among others. The door-to-door teams go to houses and mark each house where vaccination is done.

The campaign kicked off earlier this week after it was inaugurated by respective provincial governors at all the provincial headquarters.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Rotary International provided financial support for the campaign, while WHO provided technical support as well as some financial contributions.

Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Health has implemented the campaign, together with a number of NGOs.

The aim is to target more than 700,000 children under five in all the four provinces of the eastern region: Nangarhar, Laghman, Kunar and Nuristan.

According to WHO, one polio case has been confirmed so far in the eastern region: a two-year-old girl from Bargimatal district in Nuristan province.

Afghanistan has so far reported 23 polio cases in 2009 – mostly limited to areas in the south and west.

Though polio teams have also been sent to Kamdesh and Bargimatal districts of Nuristan province, which recently saw some of the worst fighting, for administering polio drops, it is not clear if the campaign is going ahead unhindered.

There are 50 districts in the eastern region.

More than 250 trained independent monitors are engaged in the field to assess the quality of the campaign in the region, said WHO.

Eastern regional polio officer Dr Hakim Jan Adeel said community mobilization and cross-border movement of thousands of people across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border have been the biggest challenges.

“There are people on the other side of the border who are living with polio,” said Dr Adeel.

Currently, an outbreak of “the P1 strain of Polio virus” is continuing in the adjoining tribal areas of Bajaur and Mohmand and also in the district of Swat and Peshawar in Pakistan.

By Tilak Pokharel, UNAMA