The United Nations today announced the launch of a large-scale measles vaccination campaign in Afghanistan, where poverty and the country’s devastated health infrastructure combine to make the disease a major killer of children.
According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which is leading the effort, measles is responsible for an estimated 40 per cent of all vaccine-preventable childhood deaths in the country, killing about 35,000 Afghan children each year.
"Since [measles] is very easily spread, epidemics occur especially in places where people live in poverty and in overcrowded conditions," UNICEF spokesman Chulho Hyun told the press in Islamabad. "Given the humanitarian catastrophe in Afghanistan, high displacement levels, extreme poverty, cold, prolonged malnutrition, Afghan children are more at risk this year than ever before."
The three-month immunization drive will begin on New Year's Day in Kabul, and will later be extended to other areas of the country in an effort to reach 9 million children, including those in remote areas.
"This $8 million campaign will give millions of Afghan children a chance to survive their childhoods," said Hyun.
In another hopeful sign, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today reported that Afghan health workers are among those returning to the country from camps across its borders. "Afghans with professional qualifications - doctors, nurses, teachers, engineers and the business community - seem the most keen to return now," said UNHCR spokesman Fatoumata Kaba.
"Throughout Pakistan, there is growing demand for repatriation assistance from both old refugees and most recent arrivals," said Kaba. "Urban refugees originating from cities such as Kabul, Jalalabad and Mazar and ethnic minorities in Jalozai daily approach the emergency teams on the question of voluntary repatriation."