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In Afghanistan, reaching the hardest to reach with vaccines

Despite a fragile health infrastructure and continuing conflict, Afghanistan is making significant progress in its battle against measles, and saving children like 4-year-old Akram from a deadly but preventable disease.  Watch in RealPlayer


By Rajat Madhok

Despite challenging conditions, efforts to vaccinate children across Afghanistan are showing signs of success.

KABUL, Afghanistan, 7 May 2013 – It has been another painful journey back from the children’s hospital for 4-year old Akram, a trip the young boy has made several times in the past two weeks with his mother, Zarghona. Akram was diagnosed with measles, and the disease has made him feeble and tired, with a high fever and little appetite.

After a few days in hospital, Akram is back home and living in quarantine. Measles is highly contagious and could easily spread to his siblings. Like thousands before him, he contracted the disease because he had not been vaccinated.

“I didn’t pay much attention when health workers came and told me about the importance of vaccination,” Zarghona says. “Now I feel so sad when I see my child suffer.” She has sworn to get Akram’s siblings vaccinated against measles and other diseases as soon as possible.

Many at risk, many obstacles

Akram is lucky – doctors detected the disease early, and access to a hospital in Kabul means he is now on the path to recovery. But not all children in Afghanistan are so fortunate. Every day many children are at risk for preventable diseases, and many die of measles, tuberculosis, tetanus, diphtheria, polio, hepatitis B, haemophilus influenza type B or pertussis (whooping cough). Most of them are less than a year old.

© UNICEF Video
Four-year-old Akram receives treatment for measles in a Kabul hospital. His mother says she did not understand the importance of getting her child vaccinated until he fell ill.

In 2012, nearly 2,600 children in Afghanistan were diagnosed with measles, all of whom could have fought off the virus if they had been vaccinated.

There are numerous obstacles to vaccinating children throughout the country: A fragile health infrastructure, difficult geographical terrain and continuing conflict have all hindered immunization efforts. There is also a need for greater public understanding of the importance of immunization, as well as its safety.

Together with the Ministry of Public Health and other partners, UNICEF is responding to these challenges with a strong push to reach children in the country’s most vulnerable and inaccessible districts. Along with routine vaccinations providing comprehensive immunization packages, there have been intensified interventions such as World Vaccination Week from 24 to 30 April this year.

Expanding outreach and delivery

These renewed efforts have contributed to real progress in improving vaccination programmes against preventable diseases, including polio. With support from UNICEF and other partners, the Ministry of Public Health has expanded outreach and immunization service delivery from 870 vaccination centres in 2004 to 1,368 in 2012. Around 2,700 health care providers are engaged in providing immunization services across the country.

© UNICEF Video
In 2012, nearly 2,600 children in Afghanistan were diagnosed with measles. So far this year, rates have drastically fallen as a result of expanded vaccination efforts.

The results are promising: The number of children who contracted measles went from 1,117 confirmed cases in the first quarter of 2012 to 123 in the first quarter of 2013, a significant drop.

Success lies in routine immunization

UNICEF Deputy Representative Vidhya Ganesh stresses that immunization and supporting the development of robust primary health care is a priority programme area for UNICEF. Referring to the World Vaccination Week, she says, “Such global campaigns boost our efforts in trying to reach out to the last child and make sure that he or she is vaccinated, but our success lies in routine immunization of Afghanistan’s children.”

Back home after a long day in the hospital, Zarghona tries to put 4-year-old Akram to bed. “I made a big mistake by not getting my child vaccinated. My son and I have suffered a lot,” she says. “I strongly urge parents not to make the mistake I made.”



UNICEF Photography: Immunization

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