Health, Asia - Pacific

Polio vaccination drive to begin in Afghanistan next month

WHO, UNICEF welcome Taliban leadership’s decision to support vaccination campaign, inclusion of female health workers in drive

Islamuddin Sajid   | 18.10.2021
Polio vaccination drive to begin in Afghanistan next month


Health workers in Afghanistan will begin an anti-polio vaccination drive next month after the Taliban leadership agreed to provide security to health workers during the campaign, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said on Monday.

In a statement issued by the UNICEF country's office in Afghanistan, WHO and UNICEF welcomed the decision by the Taliban leadership to support the resumption of house-to-house polio vaccination across the country.

The vaccination campaign, which will begin on Nov. 8, will be the first in over three years to reach all children in Afghanistan, including more than 3.3 million children in some parts of the country who have previously remained inaccessible to vaccination campaigns.

A second nationwide polio vaccination campaign has also been agreed upon and will be synchronized with Pakistan’s own polio campaign planned in December, according to the statement.

“This is an extremely important step in the right direction,” said Dapeng Luo, WHO representative in Afghanistan.

“We know that multiple doses of oral polio vaccine offer the best protection, so we are pleased to see that there is another campaign planned before the end of this year. Sustained access to all children is essential to end polio for good. This must remain a top priority,” he said.

Afghanistan has reported only one case of wild poliovirus so far in 2021, while last year the country registered 56 cases.

The country has currently 43 type 2 cases that were 308 last year, according to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

Preparations started

Pakistan has so far reported one wild poliovirus case and eight type 2 cases in 2021.

“To eliminate polio completely, every child in every household across Afghanistan must be vaccinated, and with our partners, this is what we are setting out to do,” said Herve Ludovic De Lys, UNICEF representative in Afghanistan.

A supplementary dose of vitamin A will also be provided to children aged 6 to 59 months during the upcoming campaign.

Preparations are being made to rapidly implement the nationwide vaccination campaign, which came as a result of ongoing high-level dialogue between the UN and Taliban leadership to swiftly and urgently meet the health needs of the people in Afghanistan, the statement said.

“This is not only a win for Afghanistan but also a win for the region as it opens a real path to achieve wild poliovirus eradication,” said Dr. 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,” he said.

The overall health system in Afghanistan remains vulnerable. To mitigate against the risk of a rise in diseases and deaths, all parties have also agreed on the need to immediately start measles and COVID-19 vaccination campaigns.

The Taliban leadership has also expressed their commitment to the inclusion of female frontline workers and for providing security to polio teams, said UNICEF.

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