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Final push in 2004 drive to combat polio in Afghanistan

Over 6 million children to receive life-saving polio vaccine in three day effort

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN, 26 September 2004 – More than six million Afghan children under the age of five will be vaccinated against the life-threatening polio virus in the final, three day immunization campaign for 2004 that starts on Tuesday. Every province in Afghanistan will be covered, in a joint initiative between the Afghan Ministry of Health, UNICEF and the World Health Organization.

Afghanistan remains one of just six countries in the world where polio is still endemic, although health experts believe that the National Immunization Days, led by the Government and its partners, have played a crucial role in reducing the number of new cases from 27 in 2000 to just three so far in 2004. The last reported case occurred in May 2004, making the past five months the longest “polio free” period in recent Afghan history.

40,000 vaccinators, one-third of them being women, will stretch out across Afghanistan from 28 September, with the aim of bringing polio vaccine to every community in the country before 30 September. Vaccination teams will travel on foot, on horseback, and on motorcycles across some of the country’s most challenging terrain, and in spite of the seasonally high temperatures. The National Immunization Day strategy brings vaccine to children in their homes, to ensure that no child in the target age group is missed. Vaccinators are trained by UNICEF and WHO, in both administering the two drops of oral polio vaccine to each child and ensuring that accurate data is collected on the campaign’s coverage.

The United Nations has committed itself to the interruption of wild polio transmission by the year 2005, viewing polio not only as an issue of health, but also as an impediment to economic progress and national prosperity. South Asia is particularly affected – half of the six polio endemic countries are in the region. Afghanistan hopes to have reached the goal of stopping polio transmission by the end of 2005, through regular National Immunization Days and investment in routine immunization services. Last year, Afghanistan opened its first national vaccine storage centre, established by the Ministry of Health with UNICEF support. This development means that Afghanistan is now able to manage the storage and distribution of all essential vaccines within the country. Continued efforts are being made to improve training of health workers, and immunization infrastructure across the country.

To ensure that the importance of vaccination is explained to families, UNICEF has been working with religious and community leaders to solicit their support for the National Immunization Day campaigns. In addition, social mobilizers from the Afghan Ministry of Health have been working in local communities to raise awareness of the campaign, repeating the message that from September 28 – 30th all Afghan children under the age of five should be vaccinated against polio.

The campaign against polio is funded through contributions from UNICEF, Rotary International, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Governments of the United States of America and Japan. A special launch ceremony will be held on Monday 27 September, at the Indira Gandhi Hospital in Kabul, attended by The Afghan Minister of Health, the new Ambassador of Japan to Afghanistan, His Excellency Norihiro Okuda and representatives of UNICEF, WHO and other partners. The launch starts at 10.00 am.

For further information, please contact:

Edward Carwardine, UNICEF Afghanistan, +93 (0)7960 7400, ecarwardine@unicef.org
Damien Personnaz, UNICEF Geneva,  +41 22 909 5716, dpersonnaz@unicef.org
Gordon Weiss, UNICEF New York, +1 212 326 7426, gweiss@unicef.org





At a glance: Afghanistan

Eradicating polio

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