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Japan donation supports maternal health and child survival in Afghanistan

© UNICEF/2008/Knott
Japanese Ambassador Hideo Sato discusses the pledge of $4.3 million toward eradicating polio with Afghanistan's Minister of Public Health, Dr. Amin Fatimie, and UNICEF Representative Catherine Mgenbue.

By Roshan Khadivi

KABUL, Afghanistan, 10 June 2008 – Under a new agreement signed with UNICEF, the Government of Japan will provide $4.3 million to health programmes in Afghanistan. Approximately 7.5 million children will benefit from improvements in infectious disease prevention and control as a result of the funding.

The project is part of the Government of Afghanistan’s mother-and-child health and survival initiative. It will enable the procurement of essential supplies, including vaccines for controlling infectious diseases and for the ongoing polio-eradication effort.

“We can eliminate polio from Afghanistan and we are determined to reach all the children in the country despite the security challenges,” said UNICEF Representative in Afghanistan Catherine Mbengue. “This grant will go a long way to sustain and strengthen the Government of Afghanistan’s relentless effort to eradicate polio completely.”

Days of tranquillity
During the signing ceremony, Afghanistan’s Minister of Public Health, Dr. Amin Fatimie, said that he would be calling for ‘days of tranquillity’ during an upcoming meeting with high-level delegations from NATO and Afghanistan‘s Ministry of Defense.

From 19 to 21 September 2007, for the first time since 2000, the parties to the conflict in Afghanistan allowed immunization campaigns to go forward around the International Day of Peace. More than 10,000 vaccinators visited volatile areas in southern and eastern regions of the country as part of the national immunization days (NIDs) organized by UNICEF, the World Health Organization and the Ministry of Public Health. They were able to reach 1.3 million children with polio vaccine.

Many of the areas being visited by the immunization teams were missed during previous drives due to security concerns.

© UNICEF/2008/Knott
UNICEF Representative Catherine Mgenbue spends some time with a small Afghan girl who was present at the signing ceremony for a Japanese grant to help eradicate infectious diseases such as polio.

House-to-house vaccination campaigns
Afghanistan is one of just four remaining polio-endemic countries in the world, and the polio virus is now localized in the conflict zone in the south. Millions of children are vaccinated against the disease by over 50,000 health staff and volunteers all over the country during NIDs.

When the children are vaccinated, they also receive vitamin A supplements, which help boost their resistance to other childhood diseases.

When NIDs take place, special efforts are made to vaccinate children in border areas with Pakistan and Iran, as well as those on the move – specifically, returnees and nomads. At cross-border vaccination posts, almost 900,000 children under the age of five are vaccinated annually while travelling between Afghanistan and its neighbouring countries.

Community participation
UNICEF is also supporting community-based social mobilization networks in southern Afghanistan through its non-governmental partners. Religious leaders, village elders, teachers and community health workers have been mobilized to advocate for the benefits of immunization and to give information on vaccine safety for newborns.

The Japanese funding will help to pay for polio vaccine supplies and delivery, and for planning, training of volunteers, social mobilization and community engagement. In addition, the donation will support the vaccination of almost 1 million children against tuberculosis, and will give a substantial boost to overall routine immunization coverage.

“Japan has been setting a high priority on the health sector over the past seven years and has been supporting the efforts of the Afghan Government through UNICEF,” said Ambassador Sato. “I would like to express our deep appreciation for the wonderful work of UNICEF and the Ministry of Public Health in our joint efforts to eradicate polio in this country.”




5 June 2008: UNICEF’s Leslie Knott reports on the agreement signed by the Government of Japan with UNICEF to support health programmes in Afghanistan.
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