Afghan Polio Vaccine Campaign Launched by WHO and UNICEF

In this photo taken on March 20, 2019, an Afghan health worker administers a polio vaccine to a child in Kandahar province's Arghandab district. - Polio immunisation is compulsory in Afghanistan, but distrust of vaccines is rife, and the programmes are difficult to enforce particularly in rural regions. Militants and religious leaders tell locals that vaccines are a Western conspiracy aiming to sterilise Muslim children, or that such programmes are an elaborate cover for Western or Afghan government spies. (Photo by JAVED TANVEER / AFP) / To go with 'AFGHANISTAN-CONFLICT-VACCINES-POLIO-TALIBAN', FEATURE by Rashid Durrani with Usman Sharifi (Photo credit should read JAVED TANVEER/AFP via Getty Images)

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The World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations children’s agency kicked off a polio vaccination campaign in Afghanistan on Monday, the first nationwide campaign to fight the disease in three years.

The campaign, which is aimed at reaching over 3 million children, had received Taliban backing, which would allow teams to reach children in previously inaccessible parts of the country.

According to Ahmed Al Mandhari, WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean, “The urgency with which the Taliban leadership wants the polio campaign to proceed demonstrates a joint commitment to maintain the health system and restart essential immunizations to avert further outbreaks of preventable diseases.”

Naikwali Shah Momim, WHO’s Emergency Operations Coordinator for the polio programme said, “More training was needed for teams in remote areas, so the programme would initially start in places such as Kabul.”

Afghanistan and neighbouring Pakistan are the last countries in the world with endemic polio, an incurable and highly infectious disease transmitted through sewage that can cause crippling paralysis in young children.

Polio has been virtually eliminated globally through a decades-long inoculation drive. But insecurity, inaccessible terrain, mass displacement and suspicion of outside interference have hampered mass vaccination in Afghanistan and some areas of Pakistan.

Several polio workers have been killed by gunmen in eastern Afghanistan.

WHO figures compiled before the collapse of the Western-backed government in August, there was one reported case of the one wild poliovirus type 1 (WPV1) in Afghanistan in 2021, compared with 56 in 2020.

According to health experts, until the disease is eliminated completely, it remains a threat to human health in all countries, especially those with vulnerable health systems because of the risk of importing the disease.

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