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Afghanistan polio immunization targets "missed" children

Provinces previously cut off by winter snow to benefit from three day special campaign

KABUL, 26 May 2005 – More than 2 million children in 64 districts of Afghanistan cut off by heavy snowfalls earlier in the year, along with districts in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, will be targeted in a special round of polio immunization starting Sunday 29 May. The campaign is a vital step in ensuring that no children are missed in the nationwide effort by the Afghan Ministry of Public Health, UNICEF, WHO and partners to eradicate polio in the country.

The three day campaign is being staged in addition to the planned four main rounds of polio immunization in 2005. An especially harsh winter in Afghanistan left many areas impossible to reach by vaccinators in the year’s first round held in March.

Afghanistan remains on the threshold of being declared polio-free. From a total of 27 polio cases reported in 2000, only one case has been reported in Afghanistan in 2005. Last year, there was a total of four cases. The Afghan Ministry of Public Health believes that routine immunization – the regular administration of vaccine to children as part of normal health programmes – is essential in helping Afghanistan taking the final step towards polio eradication. In countries where polio remains endemic, routine immunization levels amongst children are all under 80 per cent; in Afghanistan, best estimates put routine immunization coverage as low as 66 per cent. Major obstacles to increasing levels of routine immunization include difficult terrain, a small number of fixed health centres especially in rural areas, shortages of trained female health workers, and a lack of understanding of the value of immunization amongst families.

In an effort to address the need for strengthened routine immunization in Afghanistan and to chart the way forward, the Ministry of Public Health is holding a three day workshop from 5 June in Kabul, bringing together a range of actors from government, NGOs, the UN and the donor community to discuss ways in which routine immunization can be better integrated into existing health services at the community level.

UNICEF health officer in Afghanistan Hemlal Sharma welcomed the initiative saying, “Great efforts have been made to standardise and improve the delivery of primary health care through the Basic Package of Health Services that aims to create a minimum basket of care in every province. Routine immunization is being integrated through this package in some facilities, but it is vital that we find a way to ensuring routine immunization is an integral part of service delivery in all health facilities.”

“For example, if a mother comes to a clinic to pick up medicines for herself, then her child should be immunized at the same time,” Sharma added. “If a grandfather goes to his local clinic with back pain, and takes his grandchildren with him, it is essential that the attending health worker uses the opportunity to provide immunization for the children as well. Service delivery, to be fully effective, has to be a ‘one stop shop’ that maximises contacts with children.”

UNICEF, along with WHO and with financial support from Japan, the United States, Rotary International and other donors, is the main partner of the Ministry of Public Health in Afghanistan’s immunization efforts. In 2004, more than 6 million children were vaccinated against polio four times a year across the country, while since January 2005, three new regional vaccine storage centres have been established to improve the transportation and distribution of vaccines at local level. Next steps will include improved district level micro-planning of immunization service delivery, which will create a greater role for communities themselves in the vaccination strategy.

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For more information, please contact:

Edward Carwardine, Head of Public Information
+93 (0) 796 07400
ecarwardine@unicef.org

Mohammad Rafi, Assistant Communication Officer
+93 (0) 796 07403
mrafi@unicef.org


 

 

 

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