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Real lives

Immunization saves lives

© UNICEF/HQ02-0001/Paula Bronstein
A toddler is vaccinated in Kabul during a nationwide measles campaign, launched 1 January, aiming to reach nearly 9 million Afghan children.

The rebuilding of the country’s child immunization programme is a priority for UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO). Immunization against major childhood diseases fell steeply through the 1990s in Afghanistan. Now it is being restored, to ensure every child gets a healthy start in life.

As work begins on long-term support to the health system to make sure basic immunization is revitalized, UNICEF and WHO are working with national and local health officials on two major vaccination campaigns to protect children from crippling and deadly diseases.

Measles: Measles immunization coverage in Afghanistan over the past eight years has been very low (under 40 per cent) and the country’s measles mortality rate is the second highest in the world. This is why UNICEF’s support for a nation-wide measles campaign has been vital.

The current emergency measles immunization campaign was started in Afghanistan in July 2001 by UNICEF, The World Health Organisation (WHO) and Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Health (MOPH).

Weak, hungry children are particularly at risk of measles and other life-threatening diseases. With growing concern about malnutrition following several years of drought, the aim of the measles campaign is to immunize at least 90 per cent of Afghan children (about 9 million) between the ages of six months and 12 years old. As of August 2002 when the campaign ended, more than 8 million children have been vaccinated. The campaign is intended to save more than 30,000 children’s lives

Polio: In a separate effort in the autumn of 2001, 10 million children were reached during the first two rounds of a polio immunization campaign. The next rounds of polio immunization took place in April and again in May 2002 and reached more than 5.7 million children in each round. A final round will be staged in October 2002. Hundreds of animals, cars and motorcycles will be used for the operation, many rented with UNICEF support, and others lent by NGOs and UN agencies.

Five million children have also been given Vitamin A supplements which provide a major boost to the immune system, as part of UNICEF’s Immunization-Plus strategy.

Rebuilding capacity

UNICEF, in collaboration with WHO, plans to continue the campaigns against measles and polio while rebuilding the health system and the routine immunization programme.

Working with the Ministry of Public Health (MOPH), UNICEF and its partners have helped train health workers to ensure vaccines are correctly administered and stored. WHO provided training to ensure safe handling of vaccines, injection practices and proper waste disposal. During the campaign, UNICEF also pays the salaries of the staff and pays for all vaccines, auto-disable syringes, storage equipment, transportation and public awareness work.



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