WHO identifies 23 polio cases since January 2009
KABUL - The World Health Organization has identified a total of 23 cases of polio so far this year throughout Afghanistan with one new polio case detected this week by a WHO-supported Polio Surveillance Team.
The latest polio case is a 10-month old child from Kandahar City who started suffering paralysis on 20 September.
“The case is further evidence of the struggle to immunize children in Afghanistan’s insecure areas as 20 of the 23 cases are from the southern provinces of Afghanistan,” said Dr Rana Kakar of the Disease Surveillance Unit of WHO Afghanistan.
While WHO had earlier estimated some 140,000 “inaccessible” children in the South, “efforts to negotiate access have been successful in reaching 30,000 more children from the difficult areas,” said Dr Kakar.
This reduced to only 110,000 the number of children who remain inaccessible to the more than 44,000 volunteers who seek out Afghan children aged five years old and younger on whom they administer the anti-polio vaccines.
Also helping out are more than 6,000 coordinators, monitors, supervisors, facilitators, social mobilizers and trainers.
Conducted on 11-13 October all over the country, the three-day National Immunization Days (NIDs) for Polio Eradication targeted 7.5 million children.
Although the final figures are not yet available, Dr Kakar said the campaign “expects to reach more than 95-per cent coverage except in the South.”
Social mobilization and the training of volunteers starts some ten days prior to the campaign which WHO monitors from start to finish.
A three-day independent assessment is conducted after the campaign to ensure that all five-year-olds and younger children have been covered, according to Dr Kakar.
WHO has conducted five of the six planned rounds of the country-wide NIDs so far this year, said Dr Kakar who stressed that “after polio transmission stops, Afghanistan will need to conduct NIDs every year for three years to ensure that it is eradicated.”
Dr Kakar added that newborn babies up to four days old should receive the polio vaccine every round to be protected from this disabling but entirely preventable disease.
Afghanistan is one of only four countries in the world with endemic polio virus, the three others being India, Nigeria and Pakistan.
The nationwide vaccination campaign was launched on 11 October by President Hamid Karzai along with visiting Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada, with the two of them giving the first polio vaccines to the initial beneficiaries.
Also present during the kick-off ceremonies were Minister of Public Health Dr Muhammad Amin Fatimie, Advisor to the President on Health and Education Dr Najibullah Mojadidi and WHO Representative Mr Peter Graaff.
Afghanistan’s National Immunization Days are supported by WHO, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Rotary International, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), USAID, the Government of Japan, CDC Atlanta and other partners.
By Aurora V. Alambra, UNAMA