|© UNICEF Afghanistan/2009/Walther|
|In Kabul, where he lives, Mahamad, 5, receives his last oral polio vaccination as part of a nationwide Afghan effort to eradicate the disease in one of the few countries where it is still endemic.|
KABUL, Afghanistan, 28 July 2009—“It doesn’t hurt at all,” says Mahamad, 5, smiling broadly. The boy lives in Kabul and is used to vaccinators visiting his house. This particular visit is happening on the first day of a three-day, nationwide polio vaccination campaign – the fourth of six such immunization rounds planned for this year.
UNICEF and the Afghan Ministry of Public Health have been working together since 1978 to stop the spread of polio. They aim to regularly reach all of the country’s 7.7 million children between six months and six years of age.
After a decline between 2000 and 2005, reported polio cases increased in 2006, mainly because a deteriorating security situation prevented access to many villages. Today, the wild poliovirus is endemic only in the Southern Region of Afghanistan, while about 80 per cent of Afghan children live in polio-free areas.
Inadequate health infrastructure
Afghanistan is one of only four countries where polio has not been eradicated. The other three are Pakistan, India and Nigeria.
In Afghanistan, the major challenge is access to children – especially in the south and east, where supervision and monitoring are limited and health infrastructure is inadequate. The continued movement of people between polio-free areas and polio-endemic areas (both within the country and across the border with Pakistan) are additional difficulties to overcome.
“My mother always knows some days in advance when the vaccinators will come to our house, because we have a radio,” explains Mahamad. “Already last week she told me that I have to stay at home today so that I do not miss them.”
Yet not all women are aware of the crucial importance of polio immunization.
UNICEF supports the Afghan Government’s effort to motivate community members, especially mothers. The agency also encourages political parties to affirm their commitment to eradicating polio, and it keeps people abreast of the latest news about polio through radio broadcasts. In addition, thanks to cooperation from the Ministry of Religious Affairs, mosques now provide information about polio prevention.
Global polio eradication
Although he doesn’t know it, Mahamad is part of the largest public health initiative in history. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative [GPEI] was launched in 1988 and resulted in a dramatic reduction of wild poliovirus transmissions. Compared to 350,000 cases worldwide in 1988, fewer than 1,600 cases were reported in 2008.
GPEI is spearheaded by UNICEF, the World Health Organization, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Rotary International.
Close to 98 per cent of young Afghan children – including Mahamad – were reached in the May round of vaccinations. But vaccinators won’t be visiting Mahamad’s home any more.
“This was my last vaccination,” he says. “As I am now [almost] six years old, the vaccinators have told my mother that I am out of risk. So I am now nearly grown up!”
News note: Global Polio Eradication Initiative intensifies its activities
For Peace Day, Afghan children get a chance to be immunized
Polio vaccine reaches 5 million children
Japanese Government partners with UNICEF for ‘Thousand Classroom Project’ in Afghanistan
Global Polio Eradication Initiative