Volatile Kandahar - the polio capital
KABUL, 13 April 2011 (IRIN) - Eliminated in the
relatively secure northern and central provinces,
polio persists in the insecure southern and eastern
provinces, according to the Ministry of Public Health
(MoPH) and the UN World Health Organization (WHO).
The southern province of Kandahar is the worst
affected: Of the 25 polio cases confirmed in
Afghanistan in 2010, 11 were in Kandahar. In 2009, 38
cases were reported - 21 in Kandahar; and in 2008, 31
cases, with 12 in Kandahar, according to WHO.
In the past three years polio cases have been
reported in fewer than 12 of the country’s 34
provinces - and there has been only one confirmed
polio case reported in Afghanistan so far this year -
a two-year-old boy, now permanently disabled - in
Damaan District, Kandahar Province.
Canada, which has stationed over 2,000 soldiers in
the province since 2006 and is committed to major
humanitarian and development projects there, had vowed
it would support aid agencies in eradicating polio in
Kandahar by the end of 2009.
“It’s mostly due to a lack of access to children
that we have been unable to curb polio in Kandahar,”
Abdul Qayum Pokhla, provincial director of public
health, told IRIN, adding that rampant insecurity had
denied immunizers access to tens of thousands of
“There are also gaps in the polio programme as
we’re unable to supervise its actual delivery to the
populace and monitor the programme’s effectiveness,”
In 2009, with support from the International
Committee of the Red Cross, a major breakthrough was
achieved when Taliban leaders issued “support letters”
for the polio campaigns.
“The Taliban may not attack us but too often we
cannot corroborate the lists the immunizers give us,”
said Pokhla, adding that lack of awareness among rural
communities about polio immunization was also a key
Conflict-related internal displacements and
cross-border movements to and from neighbouring
Pakistan (where polio is endemic) have also been cited
as causes of the spread of polio. Most of the
returning Afghan refugees from Pakistan have come
through the eastern province of Nangarhar, according
to the UN Refugee Agency.
Access denied in Zabul
In Zabul Province, next door to Kandahar, local
Taliban insurgents allegedly opposed the March 2011
anti-polio drive, meaning that tens of thousands of
under-five children missed out on immunization.
Arshad Quddus, a WHO polio officer in Kabul, said
WHO was aware of the situation in Zabul and was
working with local health workers to explore a “window
of opportunity” and implement a localized anti-polio
campaign in the near future.
“WHO is extremely concerned about almost 70,000
children in Zabul who must be immunized against
polio,” said Arshad, adding that the disease was
persistent in the province.
MoPH officials said about 7.8 million children are
due to be immunized this year but the coverage ratio
hitherto in Kandahar, Zabul and Helmand provinces was
under 50 percent.
“In every immunization round we miss a small
percentage of children and that’s why polio has
remained endemic in Afghanistan,” said MoPH spokesman
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