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Immunization campaign in Afghanistan aims to reduce child and maternal deaths

© UNICEF video
A child receives a measles vaccination as part of a campaign in Afghanistan to reduce the incidence of measles by 90 per cent by the end of 2007.

By Mohammad Rafi and Nina Martinek

Every year 10.5 million children die before  the age of five, the vast majority from preventable causes. On 18 September, a high-level Child Survival Symposium in New York will galvanize action to reduce child deaths by two-thirds by 2015, in line with Millennium Development Goal 4. Here is the first in a series of UNICEF reports in the run-up to the symposium.

NEW YORK, USA, Afghanistan, 12 September 2006 – An immunization campaign supported by UNICEF was launched recently in Afghanistan with two objectives: to reduce child measles mortality by 90 per cent and to eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus.

Overall, Afghanistan’s infant mortality rate is alarmingly high at 163 per 1,000 live births. Measles is a major cause of child death, and tetanus – which often results from unsanitary conditions at delivery – is a leading killer of mothers and their newborn babies.

In the complex immunization effort now under way, more than 4 million children under five will be vaccinated against measles and an estimated 4.2 million women of childbearing age are to receive tetanus vaccine. Mothers who have been vaccinated will pass tetanus immunity on to their children for the first nine months of life.

“The overreaching objective of this campaign is to reduce infant mortality,” says Afghanistan’s Deputy Minister of Public Health, Dr. Faizullah Kakal.

© UNICEF video
A boy waits to receive his measles immunization in an ongoing campaign in Afghanistan during which over 4 million children under the age of five are being vaccinated.

Remote areas targeted

Bamyan is one remote province targeted by the campaign. It has endured decades of war, and as a result the population is scattered and displaced. Located in mountainous central Afghanistan, Bamyan Province poses a security and access challenge for vaccinators.

“Some children live in remote mountain villages that are hard to reach because the country lacks a transportation infrastructure,” notes UNICEF health advisor Dr. Agostino Paganini. “There are also gender issues. Even now, many women are wary of moving around freely, so we need to be very culturally sensitive.”

The people of Bamyan have limited access to health care, and the province’s child and maternal mortality rates are among the world’s highest.

UNICEF and its partners are supplying vaccines and training for health care workers to travel to remote regions such as Bamyan in the current campaign. Temporary immunization posts are set up in village centres, where children get their measles vaccinations. Teams then go from house to house to immunize women against tetanus.

© UNICEF video
An adolescent Afghan girl receives a tetanus vaccination outside her home. UNICEF- trained vaccinators visit women of childbearing age in their homes, where 90 per cent of all deliveries take place.

Community-based strategy

Mariam, a young mother, lives with her family live in Faqira, Bamyan Province. Her child has received a measles vaccination, and Mariam herself was immunized against tetanus in her home. “Vaccination is useful for the children. It saves their lives,” she says.

The immunization drive is expected to cover all of Afghanistan in phases, starting with hard-to-reach areas in nine provinces. Vaccination teams plan to visit these provinces before November – when snow will likely block the roads – before proceeding to the second phase, which encompasses another 25 provinces.

As recommended by the World Health Organization, additional rounds of supplementary measles vaccinations and services will be necessary to ensure the sustained reduction of infant and maternal deaths.

In tandem with the UNICEF-supported campaign, a community-based strategy for long-term health is being implemented to increase women’s and children’s access to basic health services, routine immunization and trained midwives.

Diseases such as measles and tetanus can be easily prevented, and Afghanistan’s dual campaign to fight these diseases will ensure healthier lives for children and their mothers.




28 August 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Nina Martinek reports on the measles and tetanus immunization campaign in Afghanistan.
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