KABUL, 13 April 2003 - A three-day immunization campaign against polio, the leading cause of disability in Afghanistan, is poised to start across the country this Tuesday, 15 April. This nation-wide operation is led by the Ministry of Health, with the support of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organisation (WHO).
In this first round of the National Immunization Days (NIDs) for 2003, the goal is to reach more than 6 million children, from new-borns to five-year-olds. Teams of vaccinators will go from village to village, house to house, to ensure that all children in that age bracket receive two drops of the Oral Polio Vaccine, regardless of prior immunization status or geographical location. Families should keep all eligible children at home between the 15th and 17th of April so that volunteers can reach the children easily.
Vitamin A, an important micro-nutrient to prevent night blindness and help the body fight disease and infection, will also be administered in the upcoming round to all children aged 6 months to 5 years. Vitamin A has been shown to reduce under-5 mortality by up to 20 per cent.
April to September is considered the peak season for polio transmission, making this week's campaign particularly critical. More than 30,000 vaccinators, supervisors and other volunteers will be in the field, with emphasis placed on enabling female vaccinators to play a prominent role in helping gain access to mothers. Hundreds of UNICEF, WHO and NGO staff are also involved in supervision and monitoring activities.
In an official statement marking the start of the National Immunization Days, Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai said he was confident of the upcoming campaign's success "because all Afghans, including parents, teachers, health officials and volunteers, are committed to ensuring the good health of the children."
"For too many years, the world has seen my country struggle with a difficult history, but I am proud to say that through this campaign, we are on the verge of making history that will benefit future generations. I hope that all communities across Afghanistan will play their part, not least in ensuring that vaccinators can undertake their work safely and without any form of hindrance," he said.
Afghanistan is one of the last ten countries in the world where polio remains endemic and is among the top five priority countries for polio eradication (with Pakistan, India, Nigeria and Niger). The southern region is the last remaining indigenous focus of poliovirus transmission in Afghanistan. The Ministry of Health, UNICEF, WHO, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believe that virus transmission can be interrupted in the southern region, and therefore in Afghanistan as a whole, for the first time this year. This would be a critical step in determining that polio is eradicated from Afghanistan, as part of the global polio eradication programme.
Health authorities in Afghanistan have been making significant strides in recent years toward interrupting the virus. Polio NIDs have been conducted since 1997 in Afghanistan, and in each of the five rounds conducted last year the immunization effort successfully reached 6 million children. In 1999, there were 150 polio cases in Afghanistan but just 10 cases were confirmed last year.
UNICEF and the World Health Organization are providing technical assistance, vaccines, and vaccine storage equipment for the 2003 National Immunization Days as well as supporting the transportation of monitors and the payment of incentives for the vaccinators.
Members of the media who are interested in covering the immunization activities are kindly requested to contact the UNICEF or WHO office in Kabul after today's briefing.
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For more information, please contact:
Edward Carwardine, UNICEF-Media, Kabul (0702 74729)
Dr. Naveed A. Sadozai, WHO, Kabul (0702 81112)
For more information, please contact:
Edward Carwardine, UNICEF-Media, Kabul +93 (0) 702 74729