Polio the target of UN-backed vaccination scheme in Afghanistan and Pakistan

15 February 2010

Millions of Afghan and Pakistani children will receive polio vaccinations this week as part of a coordinated effort by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN political mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) to tackle the spread of the deadly disease.

A three-day immunization campaign started yesterday in Afghanistan and today a similar drive began in neighbouring Pakistan, focused on the regions closed to their common border. The two countries are among the four in the world where polio is still endemic.

In Afghanistan, an estimated 2.8 million children under the age of five will be targeted by the new campaign, which aims to build on a series of national immunization days and house-to-house vaccination schemes which ran last year,

At least 38 cases of polio were recorded by Afghan health officials last year, and while the number of affected districts in the impoverished country has fallen, the deteriorating security situation because of the Taliban is making it harder for health-care workers to reach all communities.

Some 3.5 million doses of bivalent oral polio vaccine have been provided for this campaign, which will focus on 14 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces – Farah, Uruzgan, Kandahar, Helmand, Zabul, Nimroz, Kunar, Nuristan, Laghman, Nangarhar, Paktika, Khose, Paktia and Ghazni.

In Pakistan, the campaign is concentrated but not limited to high-risk border districts as a result of the polio outbreak last year close to the Afghan border.

Aside from UNAMA, UNICEF and WHO, the campaign in Afghanistan and Pakistan is being backed by national health officials as well as Rotary International, the Red Cross and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Polio cannot be cured but can be prevented through a vaccine given multiple times. The disease is now endemic to only Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan. Caused by a virus, polio is highly infectious and can leave sufferers totally paralyzed.

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