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Amid dire health conditions, UN gears up for anti-polio drive in Afghanistan

Amid dire health conditions, UN gears up for anti-polio drive in Afghanistan

As approaching winter temperatures threaten to exacerbate Afghanistan's severe health crisis, United Nations agencies are gearing up for an anti-polio drive there later this month, UN officials said today.

"Today, the country has one of the most dire health situations in the world, with an average life expectancy of just 46 years," Dr. Mohamed Abdi Jama, the Regional Health Coordinator for the Afghan Crisis, told reporters in Islamabad. He noted that one in four Afghan children wouldn't live to see their fifth birthday. Every day, 45 Afghan women die of pregnancy-related causes.

"With the onset of winter just around the corner, we are particularly concerned that the health outlook will deteriorate rapidly," he said. "The mass population movement, potential overcrowding in refugee camps, and insufficient access to health services mean the population is highly vulnerable to infectious diseases."

Mr. Abdi Jama reported that the World Health Organization (WHO) plans to vaccinate all refugee children aged six months to five years as soon as they enter Pakistan or Iran. "WHO's main objective in this crisis is to help keep people alive," he said. "It is crucial that health workers are able to operate unhindered in the field, and supplies and medicines reach vulnerable populations."

WHO will join forces with the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) to support National Polio Immunization Days in Afghanistan, according to UNICEF spokesperson Chulho Hyun. Over the past week, UNICEF has dispatched almost 5 million polio vaccination doses and 5 million Vitamin A doses to various points in Afghanistan.

From 6 to 8 November, more than 40,000 Afghan volunteers and health workers will fan out across Afghanistan to immunize a target of 5.4 million children against polio. They will also provide vitamin A drops, which are thought to reduce the chances of a child dying of measles by half.

"This campaign will be the final chance to deliver these lifesaving potions before winter sets in," the spokesperson said.