More than a vaccine

Nationwide 5-day polio vaccination campaign starts today, ahead of the high summer transmission season for poliovirus.

By Zahra Mirazar
Fardeena, a student from Karokh district in Herat, marks a door with given vaccinations.
UNICEF Afghanistan/2017/Huylebroek
07 May 2018

During the campaign, oral polio vaccine (OPV) will be given to more than 9.9 million children under 5 years of age. In addition, deworming tablets will also be given to 5.9 million children aged between 2 and 5 years. About 70,000 social mobilisers will visit every house to reach every last child and end polio. 

Afghanistan is  one of the hardest places in the world to be a child. One in 18 children fail to reach their first birthday, and extreme violence has killed countless children.

Among the many threats to a child’s life is polio. This year, seven polio cases have been reported in Afghanistan – the highest number in the world.

Nahied[1] is trying to change that and to make history, by eradicating polio. She works for one of the largest female workforces in Afghanistan: a national team fighting the virus. Men are not allowed inside an Afghan house – unless they are invited – which is why only female workers can check that every child inside the house has been vaccinated.  

Although it is not easy to be a woman in Afghanistan. Nahied was married at just 13 years old.

Girls have a big responsibility – we must be a wife, mother, sister and daughter. Yet, we have no value. My parents sold me for 15,000 Afs (US$217). The family that bought me was poor and my new husband was much older.

Nahied explains

She was not allowed to see her own family, and forbidden from going to school. Nahied was forced to stay at home. “I was just a child when my husband’s family owned me. As a woman, our only right is to produce more and more children,” she says.

In her twenties, Nahied finally gained her independence and joined the polio eradication team. “Before I started working, I had no money. I had to borrow food from my neighbor to feed my children, which I couldn’t pay back.” Now, Nahied is proud to serve her community by ensuring every child is vaccinated against polio. She has worked on a number of nationwide campaigns. The latest one started on 07 May and the aim is to vaccinate 9.9 million children, protecting them from potential lifelong paralysis that the virus can lead to.

Nahied manages 12 other women, and supports them to ensure no child misses the vaccine. A child in her community got polio because his parents refused the vaccine, and he is now paralyzed for life. “I know how important my job is. I do it for all children, not just my own.”

Thanks to her work on the polio programme, Nahied canafford to send all her children – including her daughters – to school. Polio eradication is not just saving lives, it is transforming society.

Fardeena and Raheema, two students from Karokh district in Herat, volunteered to do vaccination rounds in their district as part of a nationwide Polio vaccination campaign supported by UNICEF in Afghanistan.
UNICEF Afghanistan/2017/Huylebroek
Fardeena and Raheema, two students from Karokh district in Herat, volunteered to do vaccination rounds in their district as part of a nationwide Polio vaccination campaign supported by UNICEF in Afghanistan.

UNICEF and WHO would like to thank the Canadian Government for their generous donation to help eradicate polio and be a champion for women and girls in Afghanistan.


[1] Nahied is not her real name. Pseudonyms are used due to protect identities.