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UNICEF targets over 1 million Afghan children for polio immunization

UNICEF targets over 1 million Afghan children for polio immunization

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) today wrapped up a three-day drive to immunize over a million youngsters in Afghanistan against the crippling polio virus.

The campaign, which involved more than 6,500 vaccinators aiming to reach around 1.2 million children under the age of five across the southern, south-eastern and eastern regions of Afghanistan, is part of a nationwide effort which began in April, UNICEF spokesman Eddie Carwardine told reporters in Kabul.

The current round is being synchronized with a similar exercise in Pakistan "to ensure good coverage of the border regions, which are high risk areas for cross-border transmission of the virus," he added, noting that Afghanistan's two confirmed polio cases this year were in Nangahar and Helmand provinces, where the virus was likely to have been imported from Pakistan. Last year, Afghanistan reported 11 cases, also from the border areas. "In an effort to target returnees from Pakistan, vaccinations are being carried out in border posts and refugee encashment centres," he said.

Reflecting a change in strategy, the Ministry of Public Health is placing great emphasis on the use of female vaccinators in all immunization campaigns this year, according to UNICEF. "Women are able to enter family homes more easily to ensure that all children are reached," Mr. Cawardine noted.

The polio immunization campaign is a joint operation involving Afghanistan's Ministry of Public Health, UNICEF and the UN World Health Organization (WHO). UNICEF is providing financial and technical support, including approximately 1.5 million doses of vaccine. So far this year, over 10 million children in Afghanistan have been successfully immunized against polio.

Polio is a highly infectious disease which invades the body's nervous system and can cause total paralysis in a matter of hours. Among the victims, between 5 and 10 per cent die when their breathing muscles are paralyzed. There is no known cure for the disease.