Nearly 8 million Afghan children will be vaccinated against polio this week as part of a United Nations-backed health drive that will also tackle the persistent problem of worm infestation among the country’s youngest children.
Under the three-day campaign, launched today in Kabul, more than 22,000 immunization teams will fan out across the country, targeting locations such as bus stops, mosques and marketplaces as well as the more traditional method of going house-to-house.
The UN World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which are working with the Afghan public health ministry to coordinate the programme, say a mobile approach is needed to reach as many as young children as possible.
Afghanistan is one of four countries – the others are Pakistan, India and Nigeria – where the highly infectious and sometimes fatal disease is still endemic, with most other nations having eradicated the disease.
UN aid agencies in Afghanistan have been involved in ongoing efforts to stamp out fresh outbreaks, and earlier this year the country recorded its 18th case of polio.
For the first time, a de-worming initiative is being run alongside to take advantage of the vaccination network already in place for polio. About 4.6 million children aged between two and five will be targeted in a bid to cure worm infestation, which kills 150,000 people a year worldwide and leads to stunted physical and mental development among many more.
Peter Graaff, WHO’s representative in Afghanistan, said the coupling of the de-worming initiative and the polio vaccination scheme as “a smart investment” for the country’s public health system.
“This is because the polio network in Afghanistan is impressively broad, spanning across all administrative levels and various sectors, encompassing a wide variety of social actors,” he said.