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Kabul agrees to cease-fire for polio vaccination

Monday, 24 April 2000: Kabul authorities have given a verbal agreement to UNICEF that they will respect a cease-fire for the 1-3 May round of polio immunization. Northern Alliance authorities in Faizabad have also issued a verbal agreement on the cease-fire.

"This is a positive step -- now we hope that these commitments will be met," said Afghanistan UNICEF Representative Louis-Georges Arsenault. The United Nations is now awaiting written confirmation from both sides. This decision follows meetings with Taliban authorities in Kabul and Northern Alliance authorities in Faizabad.

Close to 4.5 million Afghan children less than five years old could be vaccinated against polio in this year's first anti-polio campaign if they can be reached with the vaccine. "If every single child under five can be vaccinated now and in future immunization campaigns, we can rid Afghanistan of polio," said World Health Organization Representative M. A. Jama. He added that access to all Afghan children, especially those who live in conflict-affected areas, is imperative.

Afghanistan and Pakistan are two of the world's 30 countries where polio continues to cripple people, mostly young children. They are also among the 14 priority countries where many new cases of polio are reported each year. In Afghanistan in 1999, 156 new cases were identified. "This may be only a fraction of the total number," Dr. Jama emphasized, "because reports do not yet come from all the districts."

Mass immunization campaigns and National Immunisation Days (NIDs) have been conducted in Afghanistan since 1994. In most years, the United Nations negotiated 'Days of Tranquillity' with all sides in the conflict so that more children could be reached with the polio vaccine. In 1998, vaccination was provided in Bamyan through such negotiations, but the northern region was not reached. In 1999, a cease-fire could not be achieved. "Each child we miss, because conflict prevents the vaccination teams from reaching every single district, means that this crippling disease still has the opportunity to infect not only that child but others around him or her," Dr. Jama added.

Children have not been immunized for at least one and sometimes two years in the following districts due to conflict: Dara-e-Suf (Samangan province), Gul Dara, Shakar Dara, Mir Bacha Kot, Sare Khwaja, Kalakan, and Istalif (Kabul province).

The campaign is part of the ongoing global initiative to halt transmission by the end of the year 2000 and to certify Afghanistan polio-free by 2005. Efforts are intensifying in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2000 and 2001 -- with another set of NIDs later this year and two sets scheduled for 2001 -- to stop transmission of the polio virus in both countries.

According to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, children have the right to health. Article 24 of the Convention calls upon States to give special emphasis on the provision of primary and preventive health care. Further, Article 24 states that international cooperation should be encouraged to achieve every child's right to health.

"Our hope is that the authorities and officials throughout Afghanistan will maintain a cease-fire on behalf of their children," Arsenault said. "Until adults everywhere acknowledge the right of all children to be vaccinated, several easily preventable diseases will continue to kill and cripple the future leaders."

Please email media@unicef.org with comments or requests for more information, quoting CF/DOC/PR/2000/33


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