A United Nations-supported national campaign to immunize an estimated 7.8 million children in Afghanistan against polio kicked off today in an effort to eradicate the contagious viral disease which causes paralysis.
Medical teams from the Afghan health ministry, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the UN World Health Organization (WHO) and their partners will immunize children under the age of five during the two-day campaign, this year''s final round of the national immunization days.
Nineteen cases of polio have been recorded in Afghanistan so far this year, compared to 28 cases during the same period last year, a decrease of 32 per cent. Polio has been eradicated in all but four countries – Pakistan, India, Nigeria and Afghanistan.
During the current round of immunization children aged between 6-59 months will also receive Vitamin A.
“Considering the significant decrease of polio cases this year, I urge my compatriots to participate in this year's final round of National Immunization Days. Vitamin A is critical to prevent respiratory diseases during winter,” said Suraya Dalil, acting Minister of Public Health.
Gopal Sharma, acting head of UNICEF in Afghanistan said: “Combining Vitamin A along with polio demonstrates ways in which we can reach vulnerable children with simple health interventions while also ensuring that the poliovirus has fewer opportunities to cripple children in this country.”
“What we are currently initiating and discovering by combining polio eradication efforts with other public health interventions is very interesting,” said Peter Graaff, WHO Representative in Afghanistan.
“We introduced de-worming in the last polio campaign and Vitamin A in the upcoming one. Combining interventions leads to cost savings, increased outreach and greater demand for both,” said Mr. Graaff.
Insecurity and limited access, particularly in southern Afghanistan, has resulted in the ongoing circulation of polio. To overcome those problems, the health ministry supported by UNICEF and non-governmental organizations, has been engaging in a range of communication interventions to reach communities. They include social mobilization activities and negotiations at the local level with key community leaders and village elders.