Thirteen southern districts critical for polio
eradication - WHO
KABUL, 25 January 2010 (IRIN) - Successful
anti-polio action depends on vaccinators being able to
reach and immunize every under-five child in 13
volatile districts in the southern provinces of
Kandahar, Helmand and Farah, according to the UN World
Health Organization (WHO).
“These 13 districts are high priority areas and if
we succeed in fighting the virus there, we will
eradicate polio in the country,” Tahir Pervaiz Mir,
WHO’s polio eradication officer in Afghanistan, told
“The virus is localized and we want to finish the
job at the earliest [opportunity] and not allow it to
spread beyond the southern region,” he said.
About 84 percent of Afghanistan is polio-free but
the disease remains virulent in the 13 districts,
where health workers have little or no access.
Most of the 38 polio cases in 2009 were reported in
the south, though one case each was reported in the
provinces of Kapisa, Ghor, Nangarhar and Nuristan.
Polio is a highly infectious viral disease which
affects mostly under-five children through the oral-faecal
route and in some cases causes permanent paralysis,
according to WHO.
Owing to its “professional and dedicated anti-polio
activities” Afghanistan in December was the first
country globally to use a new polio vaccine which is
believed to be 30 percent more effective, WHO’s Mir
The new bivalent vaccine is specifically made for
poliovirus types one and three which are circulating
in the country. Type two has not been reported
globally since 1999, according to health officials.
“With this new vaccine we feel more confident and
would be able to defeat polio here,” Abdul Qayum
Pokhla, director of the health department in Kandahar,
told IRIN, adding that about 2.8 million children
received the bivalent vaccine in the southern
provinces on 15-17 December 2009.
In order to ensure polio eradication and immunize
newborn children, the trivalent vaccine will also be
used in the four nationwide and four sub-national
immunization campaigns in 2010, WHO said.
“Letters of support”
The new and more efficient vaccine has strengthened
health workers’ technical capacity to wipe out
poliomyelitis from Afghanistan.
“We need mouths [into which] to drop the OPV [oral
polio vaccine],” said WHO’s Mir.
He said “letters of support” from the insurgents’
leadership have enabled vaccinators to access children
in areas controlled or influenced by the Taliban.
Donors have also been generous and there is no
dearth of resources, health officials acknowledge.
However, there are still several major challenges
ahead, including parents’ poor awareness about
immunization, recurrent armed hostilities in
polio-prone areas, population movements, and cultural
“Most of the vaccinators are male and when they
knock on doors during immunization campaigns only the
men bring small children for vaccination, but if men
are not at home women do not take the very young… to
vaccinators due to social traditions - and these are
the children we are failing to vaccinate,” said Mir,
adding that communities must help vaccinators reach
every under-five child.
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