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Volunteers to vaccinate millions of Afghan children against polio
23 August 2006

Millions of children throughout Afghanistan will benefit from the vaccination effort led by UNICEF and the government.Millions of children throughout Afghanistan will benefit from the vaccination effort led by UNICEF and the government.
Kabul, Afghanistan: The Afghan government and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) launched a three-day polio vaccination campaign on Sunday to protect millions of children under age five from the crippling virus.

More than 45,000 health workers and volunteers have been deployed to ensure all children are vaccinated.

The Ministry of Public Health said there had been 26 polio cases so far this year, compared to nine in the whole of 2005. Nearly all of this year's cases had been in the volatile southern provinces of Kandahar, Helmand, Urozgan and Zabul.

Dr. Shukurallah Waheedi, head of preventive medicine at the MoPH, said in the Afghan capital, Kabul, health workers and volunteers would visit each house to vaccinate 7.3 million children under age five.

Officials said the rise in southern cases was a major challenge for health workers due to the Taliban-led violence concentrated there.

The Taliban were toppled by the US-led coalition in 2001 but are waging an insurgency to undermine Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government and drive foreign forces out of the country.

“We are still facing huge security problems in some districts of Kandahar, Helmand, Zabul and Urozgan provinces and our staff are unable to fully implement the vaccination drive there,” Waheedi said.

The virus would spread to other parts of the impoverished country if measures were not taken to ensure the safety of health workers in the south, Waheedi warned.

“If insecurity continues in the south the virus will definitely find its way to the safer parts of the country, bringing about a countrywide health crisis,” the Afghan health official said.

Unregulated travel across the border with neighbouring Pakistan, where polio still existed, difficulty in establishing health services, lack of awareness and poor communication with community leaders were the main factors fuelling polio's spread in Afghanistan, health officials said.

Poliomyelitis (polio) is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus. It invades the nervous system and can cause total paralysis in a matter of hours. It can strike at any age, but affects mainly children under three (over 50 percent of all cases). The virus enters the body through the mouth and multiplies in the intestine.

Afghanistan is one of only four countries in the world where polio remains endemic, the others being Nigeria, India and Pakistan.

UNICEF, the World Bank and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) funded this week's vaccination campaign.