Polio Immunization Campaign Begins in
September 5, 2010
Lisa Schlein | Geneva
The World Health Organization, UN Children's Fund
and their partners are planning to immunize 1.5
million children under age five against polio in the
northeastern Afghan province of Kunduz. The 3-day
campaign, which begins Sunday, aims to stop further
transmission of this crippling disease.
Only one new polio case has been detected in the
northeastern Afghan province of Kunduz. But, that is
enough to draw the attention of health care workers.
This region has been polio-free for over a decade.
And, health experts explain if this one case of
polio is not stopped, this highly contagious crippling
disease could quickly spread.
Oliver Rosenbauer, a spokesman for WHO's Polio
Eradication Initiative, tells VOA whenever a virus is
detected, it is critical to rapidly conduct an
immunization campaign to stop the disease from
regaining a foothold.
"We genetically analyze every polio virus that we
isolate so we know where it came from. It came from
across the border in Pakistan, in the tribal areas of
Pakistan and it really underscores the danger of this
disease across these two countries, Pakistan, of
course, also being an endemic country," Rosenbauer
said. "There is a lot of population movement and
people who may be infected with the virus, but they
themselves do not show any symptoms, so they are
healthy. So, they will not know that they have the
virus, that they are infected with it. They travel
with it and re-infect other areas. So, that is what
makes this particular virus-it is one of the reasons
why it is so dangerous."
WHO's global polio eradication campaign began in
1988. At that time, this paralytic disease affected an
estimated 350,000 children in 125 countries.
Now most regions in the world are polio-free, with
638 cases of polio reported this year.
Afghanistan is one of four remaining countries
where polio is endemic. The others are Pakistan, India
and Nigeria. Major eradication efforts are ongoing in
In Afghanistan, the polio virus has been largely
restricted to the conflict-ridden south. Rosenbauer
says Afghanistan has run very successful immunization
campaigns in these areas, so whenever there has been
an importation of the virus, large-scale outbreaks
have been prevented.
"They routinely do preventive immunization
campaigns in polio-free areas of Afghanistan. They are
very aware that until they finish the disease in the
southern region that all areas of Afghanistan are at
risk of polio," Rosenbauer added. "So, their strategy
has been O.K. while we fight polio in the southern
region, we need to make sure that other areas of
Afghanistan are protected. So, this is not the first
time that we have seen it. Of course, it is a worry
and it needs to be responded to, but it is being
responded to and hopefully, as in the past, it will
prevent an outbreak."
The aid agencies are adopting a four-pronged
approach to make sure every child in Kunduz is
immunized against polio. They are carrying out
house-to-house visits, setting up mobile clinics,
establishing fixed teams in hospitals and setting up
immunization posts at border crossing points.
In addition, WHO says surveillance in the area will
be increased. The agency says synchronized vaccination
campaigns will be held in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
WHO says people in Pakistan's flood-stricken areas
could be at high risk of getting polio.