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Press Release

UN Successfully Negotiates Ceasefire in Afghanistan for Polio Immunization

The Campaign Expects to Reach 5.7 million Children Under Five

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 to 19.

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 the agreement.

"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 cooperation."

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.

About Polio

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, 2212948-51
Dr. Naveed Sadozai, EPI Officer, WHO Afghanistan, Tel: 92-51-2211224, 2211692
Mr. Mohammad Jalloh, Communication Officer, UNICEF New York, Tel: 212-326-7516