UN Successfully Negotiates Ceasefire in Afghanistan for Polio Immunization
The Campaign Expects to Reach 5.7 million Children
Kabul/Islamabad/New York, April 18 -- The United Nations has successfully
negotiated a week-long ceasefire in Afghanistan that will allow nearly
35,000 health workers and volunteers to reach 5.7 million children
under five in a countrywide polio vaccination campaign from April 17
The two warring parties, the Taliban and the Northern Alliance, have
given written commitments to adhere to the ceasefire. The agreement
came after the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World
Health Organization (WHO) officially requested both sides to respect
the cease-fire and inform frontline commanders to remain committed to
"This ongoing effort demonstrates a serious endeavour on our part
to eradicate polio in Afghanistan, one of the few countries where the
wild virus is still found," said Solofo Ramaroson, a spokesman
for UNICEF Afghanistan. "Both sides have committed themselves to
the ceasefire, and have called upon their field commanders for full
The Afghanistan immunization campaign, or National Immunization Days
(NIDs), is being synchronized with one in neighbouring Pakistan, where
more than 70,000 health teams are vaccinating nearly 29 million children
under age five. The synchronization between the countries is an
effort to prevent cross-border transmission of the virus.
This is the second of five planned NIDs this year in Afghanistan. Each
one requires the negotiation of a ceasefire, called "Days of Tranquillity,"
making the planning and execution of the campaign particularly difficult.
Afghanistan, one of the last countries still plagued by the crippling
wild poliovirus, is a linchpin in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative,
which seeks to certify the world as polio-free by 2005.
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is spearheaded by UNICEF, the
WHO, Rotary International and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
Last year a record 550 million were immunized during intensified NIDs
in 82 countries. The poliovirus circulated in 125 countries when the
campaign started in 1988. The number is down to 20 today.
Conflict remains one of the primary obstacles to the eradication of
polio. The continued strong success of "Days of Tranquillity"
in Afghanistan can help serve as a model for such measures in other
polio-endemic countries plagued by conflict. These include: Angola,
Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo-Brazzaville, Liberia, Sierra Leone,
Somalia and Sudan.
The ceasefire is one of the final steps, other than the actual placing
of the vaccine drops in the children's mouths, of a massive logistical
undertaking. UNICEF pre-positioned 6,680,000 doses of polio vaccine
around the country in special cold-storage facilities. The vaccinators
were supplied with cold boxes to ensure the vaccines remain chilled
until they reach the children.
To inform the population about the campaign, the NID organizers produced
promotional messages in local languages and arranged with local radio
stations to transmit these messages and other special programmes. The
messages inform parents and community leaders about the dates and importance
of polio vaccination. In addition, mullahs in mosques helped educate
people about the campaign.
Poliomyelitis (polio) is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus
that mainly affects children under three years of age. It invades the
nervous system and can cause total paralysis in a matter of hours. The
virus enters the body through the mouth and multiplies in the intestine.
Initial symptoms are fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting, stiffness in
the neck and pain in the limbs. One in 200 infections leads to irreversible
paralysis (usually in the legs). Between five and ten per cent of people
infected with polio die when their breathing muscles are paralysed.
UNICEF's polio pages
As there is no cure for polio, the best treatment is preventive. A
few drops of a powerful vaccine protects a child for life.
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For further information, please contact:
For further information, please contact:
Mr. Baba Danbappa, Survival Officer UNICEF Afghanistan, Tel: 92-51-2213437,
Dr. Naveed Sadozai, EPI Officer, WHO Afghanistan, Tel: 92-51-2211224,
Mr. Mohammad Jalloh, Communication
Officer, UNICEF New York, Tel: 212-326-7516