Nine new polio cases in south
KABUL, 24 July 2008 (IRIN) - Despite high hopes for
the eradication of polio in Afghanistan, nine new
cases have been reported in three southern provinces
over the past month.
Six polio cases have been reported in Maiwand,
Shahwali Kot and Gorak districts of Kandahar Province,
two in Nadali District in neighbouring Helmand
Province, and one in Urozgan Province since late June,
the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) said.
This brings the total number of confirmed polio
cases in the country in 2008 to 14. Five cases had
been confirmed earlier in the year.
"We believe there are several reasons for this new
surge in polio cases - most importantly insecurity,
population displacement and the repatriation of
refugees," Abdullah Fahim, a spokesman for MoPH, told
IRIN in Kabul on 24 July.
The insurgency, with increased attacks on health
workers, has impeded access to some parts of the
country where about 400,000 people, mostly in the
volatile southern provinces, do not have access to
basic health services, the MoPH has said.
Health officials are also concerned about returning
refugee families whose children are not immunised
against polio and other diseases.
Health officials in Kandahar Province have
acknowledged there were shortcomings in the
immunisation drive, which may have deprived some
children of consistent immunisation.
"In some instances there have been faults in the
immunisation campaigns which we are assessing and will
address," said Mamoon Tahiry, head of the immunisation
department in Kandahar.
Polio has been wiped out almost all over the world
except in Afghanistan, India, Niger and Pakistan,
according to the World Health Organization (WHO) [http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs114/en/index.html].
For the past few years Afghanistan, backed by WHO
and the UN Children's Fund, has been struggling to
eradicate wild poliovirus through 11 nationwide
immunisation rounds each year.
But the virus has not been eradicated, with 31
cases in 2006, 17 cases in 2007 and now 14 cases so
far in 2008, according to MoPH figures.
"Its very painful that these new cases have pushed
Afghanistan at least three years away from the
eradication of poliovirus," said Fahim, adding that
the MoPH was still "fully committed" to eradicating
Polio is a highly infectious disease caused by a
wild virus, which mostly strikes children under five
and for which there is no cure, health specialists
To curb the spread of the virus a new, robust
nationwide immunisation and public awareness drive
will be implemented in the near future, the MoPH said.
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA)
said it is working hard to galvanise efforts ahead of
the International Day of Peace on 21 September [http://www.internationaldayofpeace.org/],
which will see vaccinators and health workers visiting
all parts of the country and immunising millions of
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