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Afghanistan: UN-backed polio campaign underway targets more than 2 million children

Afghanistan: UN-backed polio campaign underway targets more than 2 million children

Child receiving polio vaccine
More than 2 million Afghan children are currently being immunized in a United Nations-backed three-day polio eradication drive following a sixth reported case of the crippling and sometimes fatal disease in the south of the country this year.

On the second day of the drive, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) reported that the campaign, led by the Public Health Ministry and supported by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN World Health Organization (WHO), was running smoothly, with no major problems.

More than 15,000 health workers are set to travel from house to house. This mobile approach is essential in ensuring that every child group is reached, with many families unable to access fixed health centres in rural parts of the country, which is one of just four countries in the world still affected by the virus. Two months ago, Egypt was declared polio-free after successful immunization efforts.

There was a delay in starting vaccinations in two districts of Zabul province, due to logistical problems in getting vaccines to the district coordinators, but these were quickly resolved and immunization should start today in these two districts, UNAMA spokesman Adrian Edwards told a news briefing in Kabul, the Afghan capital.

“The Ministry of Public Health, UNICEF and WHO remain confident that the goal of polio eradication is achievable, but call upon communities and families to play their part by ensuring that all children under the age of five in the 11 provinces are presented to vaccination teams over the remaining two days of the campaign, to ensure that all eligible children are reached,” Mr. Edwards said.

In a related development, UN agencies are helping the authorities cope with spring floods currently affecting several areas of the country, coordinating efforts to make sure that emergency relief is reaching those in need.

In Faryab province, where flooding over the past weekend is reported to have killed nine people and destroyed 187 homes, UNICEF has provided 322 family kits containing essential cooking utensils, soap, plastic tarpaulin sheets and blankets, while the UN World Food Programme (WFP) has supplied 19.2 tons of essential food.

In Baghlan, working with the Afghan Red Crescent Society and Department of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, UNICEF has provided family kits for 96 families while the WFP has supplied 7.3 tons of food.

The Health Ministry and UNICEF have dispatched measles vaccines and equipment to protect children and the Agency has set up six school tents to replace six schools that were destroyed. School stationary kits have also been delivered.

The Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD), also with UNICEF’s support is delivering jerry cans and chlorine to treat wells contaminated by the floods to ensure that affected communities have safe drinking water.