Academic journal article Bulletin of the World Health Organization

For Afghan Polio Eradication the Show Goes on. (WHO News)

Academic journal article Bulletin of the World Health Organization

For Afghan Polio Eradication the Show Goes on. (WHO News)

Article excerpt

Just a few days before the US and the UK launched on 7 October the first attacks against targets inside Afghanistan, teams of health workers and volunteers went ahead with a planned drive to immunize all of the estimated 36 million children under five in Afghanistan and Pakistan against poliomyelitis.

Between 23 and 27 September, about five million children in Afghanistan and 30 million in Pakistan were given polio vaccine, despite massive population movements caused by the political situation. The campaign was organized by the Taliban health ministry, with assistance from WHO and UNICEF, and with the cooperation of the opposition Northern Alliance. The two countries together form a single reservoir for wild poliovirus, which circulates across the border between them. They are two of the remaining ten countries in the world that are priority targets of the global initiative to eradicate polio by 2005.

"The timing of these polio immunizations was critical, as both countries are on the verge of eradicating this dreaded disease," said Dr Hussein Gezairy, director of WHO's Eastern Mediterranean regional office. It was also critical to conduct at least the first round of immunizations before the onset of winter. A second round is planned for 6-8 November.

Dr Naveed Sadozai, WHO's polio team leader for Afghanistan, told the Bulletin that teams of health workers on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border had been strengthened to cope with the huge numbers of people trying to leave Afghanistan. Speaking from Islamabad in Pakistan, he said: "We have had our cross-border teams in place for seven days this time, instead of the usual three, and they have been immunizing every, incoming and outgoing child."

National Immunization Days, as the mass polio vaccination campaigns are called, organized by the global polio eradication initiative, have since 1988 led to a dramatic reduction in the numbers of polio cases in these countries. To date in 2001, only 8 cases have been detected in Afghanistan, all in and around Kandahar province, vs 120 cases recorded last year from throughout the country. Pakistan has reported 42 cases to date in 2001 -- a two-thirds reduction from last year, with the greatest number in the North-West Frontier province bordering Afghanistan. …

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