Final push in 2004 drive to combat polio in Afghanistan

Kabul, September 26 2004 - More than six million Afghan children under the age of five will be vaccinated against the life-threatening polio virus in the final, three day immunization campaign for 2004 that starts on Tuesday. Every province in Afghanistan will be covered, in a joint initiative between the Afghan Ministry of Health, UNICEF and the World Health Organization.

Afghanistan remains one of just six countries in the world where polio is still endemic, although health experts believe that the National Immunization Days, led by the Government and its partners, have played a crucial role in reducing the number of new cases from 27 in 2000 to just three so far in 2004. The last reported case occurred in May 2004, making the past five months the longest "polio free" period in recent Afghan history.

40,000 vaccinators, one-third of them being women, will stretch out across Afghanistan from September 28, with the aim of bringing polio vaccine to every community in the country before 30 September.

Vaccination teams will travel on foot, on horseback, and on motorcycles across some of the country's most challenging terrain, and in spite of the seasonally high temperatures. The campaign against polio is funded through contributions from UNICEF, Rotary International, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Governments of the United States of America and Japan. A special launch ceremony will be held on Monday 27 September, at the Indira Gandhi Hospital in Kabul, attended by The Afghan Minister of Health, the new Ambassador of Japan to Afghanistan, His Excellency Norihiro Okuda and representatives of UNICEF, WHO and other partners.