UN Prepares Polio Vaccination Campaign for Children in Afghanistan

UN agencies are preparing a polio vaccination campaign for all children under the age of five in Afghanistan, a country where the potentially disabling disease persists despite more than 30 years of polio campaigning and nearly eradicated worldwide.

Doses of the vaccine will begin to be administered in Afghanistan on November 8, the first in three years, after the new Taliban government gives approval.

WHO Director of Polio Eradication For the Eastern Mediterranean Dr. Hamid Jafari told Mouab, “this is a big development. Now we can go all over Afghanistan and do house-to-house vaccinations.”

A boy receives a polio vaccine during an anti-polio campaign in Kabul, Afghanistan March 14, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail

A boy receives the polio vaccine during an anti-polio campaign in Kabul, Afghanistan March 14, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail

He described the upcoming campaign as “a real combination of extreme excitement and fear. Happy that there is finally a chance to eradicate polio for real.”

He further cautioned that the virus may still be “lurking in hard-to-reach sections of the population,” so it is critical for WHO to “maintain the momentum to vaccinate children so that there is no place for this virus.” “Afghanistan and Pakistan both have to really change their attitude,” said Jafarin.

The persistence of polio in Afghanistan and Pakistan shows that the disease is still spreading around the world. WHO will start vaccination efforts in December.

Rotary International, which coordinates polio eradication programs worldwide, estimates “hundreds of thousands of children could be paralyzed” if polio is not eradicated within the next 10 years.

WHO announced the polio vaccination campaign last October 19, five days before the commemoration of World Polio Day which is part of the GPEI Polio Eradication Initiative by Rotary International.

According to Rotary International, since the GPEI was initiated in 1988 – at which time there were 350,000 cases annually in 125 countries – now polio cases have been cut by 99.9%.

For the past three years the Taliban have banned UN-organized teams from carrying out house-to-house vaccinations in parts of Afghanistan they control. The ban and the recent end of the war in Afghanistan have left 3.3 million of the country’s 10 million children in the period from receiving vaccinations.

The Taliban has not commented on the deal for polio vaccination, but Jafari said “The Taliban have always supported polio eradication. In fact the polio education program started in Afghanistan when the Taliban ruled” in 1996-2001.

Jafari said the vaccination restrictions imposed by the Taliban “were really due to security considerations and the nature of the conflict at the time, and now it has changed drastically… their commitment to support polio education remains the same, and this (agreement.red) is a reflection of that. ”

He added that the WHO is constantly “in dialogue” with the Taliban, in order to maintain this “very neutral and impartial program” that allows children “wherever they are” to be vaccinated against polio. [em/rs]

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