Snow, insecurity hamper polio immunisation
KABUL, 25 January 2009 (IRIN) - Over 650,000
children under five have missed the first nationwide
polio immunisation drive in 2009 because of access
restrictions due to insecurity and heavy snow in
various parts of Afghanistan, the Ministry of Public
Health (MoPH) said.
A three-day national polio immunisation campaign
launched on 3 January had reached about seven million
Roads blocked by snow in Ghor, Badghis, Daykundi,
Farah and Bamiyan provinces prevented access to over
440,000 children, Abdullh Fahim, MoPH's spokesman in
Kabul, told IRIN on 22 January.
Over 215,000 children were also missed in the
volatile southern provinces of Kandahar, Helmand,
Uruzgan and Zabul where aid workers and health centres
have been repeatedly attacked by insurgents over the
past few months, according to Fahim.
"We will launch another campaign for the children
that we could not reach because of bad weather," said
Fahim, adding that efforts were also under way to
access children in insecure areas in the south.
Afghanistan, with a population of some 27 million,
is one of four countries in the world where
poliomyelitis is still endemic. The MoPH confirmed 31
polio cases, mostly in insecure southern and eastern
areas, in 2008.
Six nationwide anti-polio drives in 2009
Despite constant rounds of immunisation, poliovirus
has left many Afghan children crippled over the past
Afghanistan was expected to wipe out polio in 2006
but returning refugees, conflict and resistance to the
immunisations by some sceptical groups have repeatedly
delayed the target.
The MoPH, backed by UN agencies and several other
donors, will conduct six nationwide and 12 regional
polio immunisation drives in 2009, Fahim said. The
exercise will cost about US$30 million, all of which
will be paid by donors such as the UN Children's Fund
(UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
MoPH officials say access to children, rather than
lack of money, is their main concern. "We could
eradicate poliovirus in three years if we had access
to all children," Fahim said.
In 2008 health workers engaged in direct and
indirect access negotiations with Taliban insurgents
and managed to immunise children in some volatile
regions. The effort has potential for success but is
in need of strong follow-up measures, enhanced
awareness, local support and extended efforts by all
actors, experts say.
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