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Afghanistan determined to eradicate polio

UNICEF-WHO Afghanistan Joint Press Release

KABUL,15 April 2002 - Despite all obstacles, Afghanistan is continuing its march towards the goal of eradicating polio. Afghanistan is now on the verge of a major health victory.

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Kabul, Afghanistan - 16 April 2002: Afghanistan is on the verge of a major public health victory. In a nation-wide campaign being held from 16-18 April 2002, nearly six million Afghan children will be vaccinated against polio, bringing the country a step closer to stopping transmission of the wild poliovirus in Afghanistan by the end of this year.

Throughout Afghanistan, 60,000 volunteer vaccinators, mobilised by the Afghan Ministry of Public Health and assisted by UNICEF, WHO and various NGOs, will carry out door-to-door vaccinations for all children under the age of five. In Kabul, for the first time, 70% of newly trained vaccinators will be women. In order to eradicate polio, all children must be reached. Therefore, special efforts will be made to vaccinate children in border areas and those on the move.

"We are on the verge of claiming an important victory for all of Afghanistan, and indeed for the world. Working together, we are making sure that Afghanistan will become a healthier place for children. We appreciate the work and support of all the partners and donors who have provided us support for this important cause", said Suhaila Seddiq, the Afghan Minister of Public Health.

Afghanistan is one of just ten remaining polio-endemic countries in the world. However, since the first National Immunisation Days were carried out in 1994, the number of polio cases in Afghanistan have been drastically reduced. So far this year, only one case involving an 18-month old boy in Afghanistan's eastern province of Nangarhar, has been detected. In 2001, Afghanistan reported 11 cases, found in just 7 of Afghanistan's 331 districts.

"This progress demonstrates that despite all the odds, we can eliminate polio from Afghanistan if we continue to tackle the problem in a determined way", said Dr Eric Laroche, UNICEF's Country Representative for Afghanistan.

Polio is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus, and mainly affects children under 5 years of age. It is easily transmittable in unsanitary conditions. The virus enters the body through the mouth and multiplies in the intestine. It then invades the nervous system and can cause total permanent paralysis in a matter of hours. In order for a country to be considered polio-free, there must be no new reported cases for two years.

"Afghans have demonstrated a tremendous commitment to protecting their children against polio. I have great hope that Afghanistan will be able to reach the goal of stopping transmission of the wild poliovirus in Afghanistan by the end of 2002", said Dr Said Salah Youssouf, WHO Country Representative for Afghanistan.

The polio eradication campaign in Afghanistan is part of a global effort to rid the world of polio. Overall, in the 14 years since the Global Polio Eradication Campaign was launched, the number of cases has fallen by 99.8%, from an estimated 350,000 cases in 1988 to only 537 cases in 2001.

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For more information, please contact:

Mr Kent Page or Ms Asako Saegusa, UNICEF Afghanistan Communication Officers
at SatPhone: +882-168-980-0081
and/or Dr Naveed Sadoqi , WHO Afghanistan Polio Medical Officer at SatPhone: +0046-73004-4649.