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More Afghan children protected against measles thanks to immunization campaigns

New figures show 5 million children vaccinated against disease in June campaign

KABUL, 3 August 2003  -  Even more of Afghanistan’s children are protected against measles today, thanks to a one-month immunization campaign spearheaded by the Ministry of Health, and supported by UNICEF, WHO and other partners. The campaign, which was held across the country in June 2003, reached more than 5 million children aged nine months to five years.

The success of the June campaign follows a steady improvement in vaccination coverage for measles, one of the major killers of children in the developing world. The fight against measles, which in 1999 claimed the lives of 875,000 children worldwide, is part of a global drive to reduce measles-related deaths by 50% by the year 2005. In 2002, more than 11 million children were immunized against measles in Afghanistan. The success of the two campaigns is unprecedented in a country facing a complex emergency. Prior to these campaigns, measles was estimated to contribute to up to 15-20% of deaths among children under five in Afghanistan.

The progress made in immunization efforts underlines steady improvements in the infrastructure and systems available to health teams as part of the country’s Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI). This has included investments in cold chain systems – the equipment and training required to ensure the safe storage and transport of vaccine – and improvements in training of vaccinators themselves. In addition, the increased use of women vaccinators over the last 18 months has improved access to households, and thus enhanced the ability to reach every child in the target age groups.

Since the beginning of 2002, there has been a notable reduction in the number of reported cases of measles in Afghanistan, from over 400 per month in January 2002 to less than 50 per month by mid-2003. The success of the June measles campaign is another step forward in the already drastic reduction of measles incidence in Afghanistan. The recent campaign has ensured that the Ministry of Health’s target for measles immunization in 2003 has been fully met, although to maintain the necessary coverage levels to interrupt the transmission of the measles virus continued efforts will be made to immunize children through routine vaccination activities.

Today’s announcement on the success of the measles campaign comes as the Technical Advisory Group on Afghanistan – an international advisory body for the global polio eradication initiative  – praised the efforts made by Afghanistan’s health authorities to tackle polio, another major killer disease affecting children. In its July meeting in Geneva, the Group lauded Afghanistan’s Ministry of Health and its partners for the remarkable achievements made in the last two years, in face of the extremely difficult circumstances under which staff have to work. The Group noted that human resources, communications, and transport infrastructure necessary to effectively undertake polio immunization are essentially in place and the Group commented on the extraordinary dedication and commitment of the Ministry of Health, UNICEF and WHO staff and the strengthened coordination between partners. 

For more information contact:

Edward Carwardine, UNICEF Media – Kabul +93 (0) 702 74729




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