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Afghan volunteers assist UN agencies in vaccination campaign
02 May 2003

Kabul, Afghanistan: With support from the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the UN World Health Organization (WHO), Afghanistan is set to launch the third round of an immunization campaign against maternal and neonatal tetanus on Saturday, relying on women vaccinators and volunteers to help eradicate a disease that kills 200,000 infants and 30,000 women each year in developing countries.

Using a ground-breaking pre-filled syringe, 840 vaccinators and volunteers in 280 teams aim to vaccinate 98,000 women of childbearing age in eight districts of Kabul Province during the week-long campaign organized by the Ministry of Health, UNICEF spokesperson Chulho Hyun told a briefing today in Kabul, the Afghan capital.

Some 80 per cent of the vaccinators and volunteers are illiterate women whom the Ministry has recruited from the villages and communities where they will conduct the immunizations, and their performance will shape how the campaign will be expanded nationally over the next two years, Ms. Hyun said.

Female vaccinators and volunteers have demonstrated their vital role in accessing mothers in other immunization activities, such as polio and measles campaigns, she added. An important part of this coming round will be to gauge how illiterate female vaccinators and volunteers can contribute to a successful national drive against tetanus, especially in communities where access to health centres and clinics is limited, through use of what is called the Uniject device.

A groundbreaking tool, Uniject is a pre-filled needle and syringe used by personnel with minimal medical training such as traditional midwives, illiterate or laypersons, to administer the tetanus toxoid vaccine, thus improving access to women in remote communities.

There have been two previous rounds of vaccinations, in February and March, in major Afghan urban centres, reaching some 96 per cent of the coverage target each time. The continuing campaign aims to reach 740,000 women in 2003, and a total of 4.7 million by the end of 2005.

Ms. Hyun said that UNICEF was working closely with the Ministry of Health, particularly in tackling infant and maternal mortality, where the problems are still very acute indeed. According to reports produced last year by the Ministry of Health, the Centre for Disease Control in Atlanta and UNICEF, Afghanistan's maternal mortality rate stands at 1,600 women for every 100,000 live births.