Efforts to eradicate polio in Afghanistan move forward

Unicef – Afghanistan continues its efforts to eradicate polio in the country. In a nation-wide campaign held from 22-24 April 2007, nearly 7.3 million children were vaccinated, bringing the country – and the world – one step closer to polio eradication.

Afghanistan is one of just four remaining polio-endemic countries in the world. Majority of the cases are in the southern part of the country with most of them in four provinces of Kandahar 16, Hilmand six, Uruzgan four and Zabul one.

“We can eliminate polio from Afghanistan and we are determined to reach all the children in the country despite the security challenges, particularly in the Southern part of the country “, said Catherine Mbengue, UNICEF Representative in Afghanistan

It was a massive operation: over 45,000 people were involved in the April’s national Immunization Days (NIDs) which carried out door-to-door vaccinations for all children under the age of five. Coordinated by the Afghan Ministry of Public Health and assisted by UNICEF, WHO and NGOs, special efforts were made to vaccinate children in border areas with Pakistan and Iran and those on the move, specially the returnees and nomads.

Vaccination teams have been permanently placed at various points along the borders prepared to vaccinate every child under five they came across throughout the year.

“If we continue to miss these children who travel back and forth between the neighbouring countries, the goal to eradicate polio in Afghanistan will remain elusive,” said Mbengue “and children will suffer the consequences.”

In addition to vaccination campaigns, UNICEF is supporting community-based social mobilisation networks in the Southern part of the country through NGO partners. Four categories of community influencers; religious leaders, village elders, teachers and Community Health Workers; have been mobilised to engage with communities to advocate about the benefits of immunization and give information on vaccine safety for newborns.

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