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Afghanistan: warring sides agree to ceasefire for UN polio immunization effort

Afghanistan: warring sides agree to ceasefire for UN polio immunization effort

The warring factions in Afghanistan have agreed to respect a ceasefire for three days starting tomorrow to allow a United Nations polio immunization effort to go forward, according to the Islamabad-based UN Coordinator for the country.

The agreement came in response to a request from the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO), which asked both sides to silence their guns during another round of "national immunization days."

Last year, over 5.4 million Afghan children under five years of age were vaccinated against poliomyelitis, while this year's campaign aims to reach 5.7 million. As many as 27,600 vaccinators and volunteers and about 6,000 supervisors and mobilizers will work in the campaign throughout Afghanistan.

UNICEF sends over 6,680,000 doses of polio vaccine to Afghanistan for each round of national immunization days. It also covers the human, operational and social mobilization costs, which in this round will amount to $973,000. WHO funds the cost of training volunteers and vaccinators as well as part of the operating fees.

Five rounds of national immunization days are planned for 2001, according to the Office of the UN Coordinator. Special arrangements have been made to ensure that children of internally displaced persons in Afghanistan and children of families who cross borders during the national immunization days can be vaccinated against polio.

Afghanistan is one of the countries where the wild poliovirus continues to threaten the lives of children. In 2000, 115 Afghan children were confirmed to have contracted polio, according to the UN Coordinator.