Polio vaccination campaign gets under way
Kabul, March 1, 2005 (IRIN) - The Afghan government, working in conjunction with the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), launched a three-day national polio vaccination campaign on Tuesday in an effort to finally eradicate the virus from the country.
An estimated 5.3 million Afghan children under the age of five will receive the life-saving polio vaccine under the National Immunization Days (NID) campaign.
Afghanistan is among only seven countries in the world, along with Nigeria, India, Egypt, Niger, Somali and Pakistan, where polio remains endemic.
"The government and UNICEF [the UN Children's Fund] are hoping that this year is the year when there will be no new cases in polio," Edward Carwardine, a UNICEF spokesman, told IRIN in Kabul.
Led by the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH), with support from UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 35,000 health workers will administer the oral vaccine across the country.
"We continue to hope that this will be the year that we break the transmission. Of course it will depend on the number of children who are vaccinated and the continued efforts throughout the year to get newborn children vaccinated against polio."
According to UNICEF, Afghanistan has already made steady progress towards the eradication of polio over the last three years. In 2004, there were just four reported cases of polio compared to 10 in 2002.
At the same time as receiving the polio vaccine, children will also get vitamin A supplements, which help to boost resistance to other childhood diseases.
"The vitamin A campaign had been planned for later in the year, but in the light of the particularly harsh winter planners decided to bring forward the exercise to afford increased protection to children now," Carwardine noted.
Carwardine said the cold weather conditions in recent weeks had led to a delay in the NID coverage of 61 districts in 19 provinces where access had become restricted by snowfalls. "These districts will be covered in an extra round of immunization scheduled for May," the UNICEF spokesman said.
Child mortality is very high in the war-ravaged country. Afghanistan's first national human development report, released last week, indicated that 20 percent of children died before the age of five.
In the past several weeks, outbreaks of whooping cough, pneumonia and measles have claimed over 200 victims, the majority of them children. Carwardine said these diseases were easily preventable through routine immunizations.
"While immunization campaigns reach large numbers of children, routine vaccination levels are under 50 percent in some parts of the country," he noted.