|© UNICEF Japan/2005|
|Japan’s Ambassador to Afghanistan Norihiro Okuda (left) and UNICEF Afghanistan’s Senior Programme Officer Dr. Gepke Hingst (right), at a signing ceremony of the exchange of note for Japan’s $4.7 million donation to Afghanistan.|
By Junko Mitani and Jihun Sohn
KABUL, Afghanistan, 6 July 2005 – In its latest humanitarian gesture to help children of Afghanistan lead healthier lives, Japan has contributed $4.7 million to be used for immunization projects across the country.
At a signing ceremony in Kabul, an exchange of note in the amount of $4.7 million was signed between Japan’s Ambassador to Afghanistan, Norihiro Okuda, and UNICEF Afghanistan’s Senior Programme Officer, Dr. Gepke Hingst. The Afghan Minister of Foreign Affairs, Abdullah Abdullah, was also in attendance.
The donation is part of an increased effort to stop children suffering and dying from vaccine-preventable diseases. In Afghanistan today, approximately one third of children have not been immunized against major childhood diseases such as measles, diphtheria, whooping cough, polio, tuberculosis and tetanus. To this end, the government of Japan is helping UNICEF launch an Expanded Programme on Immunization in hopes of reaching 80 per cent of all Afghan children by the end of this year.
Japan’s latest donation will go into strengthening the standard immunization system across Afghanistan through the following measures:
These key measures are expected to ensure a much faster and more cost-effective delivery of vaccines. Infants and pregnant women living in remote areas will no longer have to wait for vaccines to arrive from Kabul; access to immunization services will be easier as vaccines will be stored locally - at the appropriate temperature - closer to their homes.
In the last few years, Japan has been one of Afghanistan’s most important partners in the immunization effort, helping to procure vaccines, establish cold chains and train vaccinators nationwide. As a result, some 40,000 deaths due to measles have been prevented, the number of polio cases has dropped from ten in 2002 to four in 2004, and immunization coverage has jumped from around 30 per cent in 2002 to 65 per cent in 2004.
However, several challenges remain to improving the overall health situation for children and women. The infrastructure is poor, local health workers often have only very basic knowledge and skills and, above all, the security situation is volatile, making it difficult for women in some areas to go outside their homes to pay a visit to the clinic.
Unfazed by such obstacles, UNICEF, in cooperation with the Ministry of Public Health, is promoting Immunization Plus in Afghanistan. Under the Immunization Plus programme, children and pregnant women receive vitamin A supplements and iron tablets, respectively. Mothers also learn how to take care of a sick child and how to prepare nutritious meals.
Japan’s $4.7 million donation is part of a broader economic aid package for Afghanistan worth around $31 million (¥3,349 million). The package was approved by the Japanese cabinet in May to assist in regional peace development and provide quality education across Afghanistan.