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At a glance: Japan

Japan donates an additional $4.6 million to continue child immunization drive in Afghanistan

© UNICEF Afghanistan/2009/Englehart
From left: Afghan Minister of Public Health Dr. Amin Fatimie, UNICEF Representative Catherine Mbengue, WHO Representative Peter Graaff and His Excellency Shigeyuki Hiroki, Ambassador of Japan, at signing ceremony for an agreement to extend immunization programmes for children in Afghanistan.

By Oliver Englehart

KABUL, Afghanistan, 17 November 2009 – His Excellency Shigeyuki Hiroki, Ambassador of Japan, and UNICEF Representative for Afghanistan Catherine Mbengue have signed an agreement to maintain and extend immunization programmes for children in Afghanistan.

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The signing ceremony took place earlier this month at the Ministry of Public Health in Kabul, in the presence of Minister of Public Health Dr. Amin Fatimie and World Health Organization (WHO) Representative for Afghanistan Peter Graaff.

The accompanying donation of an additional $4.6 million from Japan will benefit more than 7.7 million children in Afghanistan, ensuring the delivery of essential supplies, including vaccines.

A promise to eradicate polio

UNICEF estimates that over 600 children under five years of age die each day in Afghanistan as a result of preventable diseases. These diseases persist because of restricted access to many villages due to insecurity, and because of a lack of community awareness, limited female service providers and inadequate health infrastructure, among other factors.

After signing the agreement, H.E. Ambassador Hiroki promised that “we will never leave without eradicating polio in this country.”

Afghanistan is one of only four countries where polio remains endemic, along with Nigeria, India and Pakistan. The porous and volatile border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan has made the polio virus difficult to isolate and control.

© UNICEF Afghanistan/2009/Englehart
Afghan Minister of Public Health Dr. Amin Fatimie speaks at the signing ceremony that took place at the health ministry in Kabul.

Diplomacy and community involvement

“With the great support of the international community – particularly our partners in the United Nations, UNICEF and WHO – we will be able to tackle this problem,” said Dr. Fatimie.

In her remarks, Ms. Mbengue noted that despite adversity, there was also cause to celebrate what had already been achieved:

“Today, the polio virus is localized only in the southern and eastern part of Afghanistan, while in the rest of the country there is no evidence that polio is still circulating,” she said.

Ms. Mbengue also underlined progress made on social mobilization and community engagement. These efforts, she said, have involved religious leaders, teachers, village elders and community health workers in motivating families to have their children immunized against polio and other vaccine-preventable diseases.

Working with partners

Mr. Graaff of WHO praised the efficiency of the “tremendous” working relationship between the Ministry of Public Health, UNICEF and WHO.

“The Minister is always very forceful to ensure that the financial resources or material resources provided by the donors, including the Government of Japan, are put to the best possible use with the least possible waste,” he said.

On UN Peace Day 2009, over 1 million children under five living in difficult-to-reach, high-risk areas were immunized during a three-day polio eradication drive.

The Japanese contribution to UNICEF programmes in Afghanistan has totalled about $120 million since 2000.




9 November 2009:
UNICEF’s Oliver Englehart reports on the Kabul signing ceremony  to mark Japan’s donation of an additional $4.6 million for polio immunization in Afghanistan.
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