AFGHANISTAN-PAKISTAN: Polio knows no borders
ISLAMABAD, 22 March 2007 (IRIN) - Beginning on
Sunday, a mammoth campaign to vaccinate close to 20
million children under five years of age will get
under way in Afghanistan and Pakistan, employing tens
of thousands of vaccinators.
"This is a virus that does not respect borders,"
said Dr Rudolf Tangermann, a medical officer with the
polio eradication initiative of the World Health
Organization (WHO) in the Pakistani capital,
Islamabad. "These two countries cannot eradicate polio
According to WHO, the world's success in
eradicating polio depends on four countries where the
virus remains endemic – India, Nigeria, Afghanistan
In 2006, there were 40 confirmed cases of polio in
Pakistan and 31 in Afghanistan. This year, there have
been no reported cases of polio in Afghanistan but six
For eight-month old Hussein Ullah, living in the
Tirrah sub-district of Pakistan near the border with
Afghanistan, the battle against polio has just begun.
Hussein's is the fifth of the six confirmed polio
cases in Pakistan this year and the second in
Pakistan's North West Frontier Province (NWFP). These
cases underscore the importance of cross-border
eradication efforts and the importance of strong
cooperation and political commitment between
Afghanistan and Pakistan, Tangermann said.
Authorities in both countries are well aware of
their need to join forces to fight polio. During a 28
February Geneva meeting of governments, donors and
international agencies leading the drive to eradicate
polio, Pakistan's health minister Nasir Khan said "in
terms of polio eradication, the two countries are
While across the border in Afghanistan, the office
of Afghan President Hamid Karzai has already taken
direct oversight of polio vaccinations, following a
sharp increase in cases in the country's south in
"Communities on either side of the border are
actually the same community," said Dr Nima Abid, head
of WHO's eradication efforts for Pakistan. Mobile
groups - such as nomads, refugees or returnees -
frequently and seasonally move across the often porous
frontier, she added.
Health experts consider the two countries as one
epidemiological block, given the history of population
movement over more than 2,400km of common border.
According to Abid, more than 600,000 children under
five years of age were vaccinated while crossing the
border in 2006 at two fixed cross border vaccination
points located in Pakistan's NWFP and Balochistan
provinces, with efforts now underway to increase that
number by 50 percent with 10 fixed vaccination points.
This weekend, the Afghan government, in
collaboration with its partners at the UN Children's
Fund (UNICEF) and WHO, will launch its first of four
national immunisation drives (NIDS), targeting 7.3
million children nationwide.
In a parallel effort, on Tuesday Pakistan's
government, along with the same partners, will target
upwards of 12.5 million children in 37 of the
country's 132 districts - the second of five
sub-national immunisation days (SNDS) in 2007 to
target those areas considered at particular high risk.
"From the Balochistan side to NWFP, almost all the
border areas will be included in this campaign," Abid
said, noting that they hoped to reach 35 percent of
their nationwide target.
In addition to planning vaccination days together,
including regular meetings and consultation,
additional measures are being taken to immunise as
many children as possible this year.
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