Polio virus eradicated in north, virulent in south

KABUL, 24 September 2008 (IRIN) - The Ministry of Public Health has reported a virtual eradication of the polio virus in the relatively calm northern provinces and central highlands.

"In the past three years no polio case has been reported in 10 northern and central provinces," Abdullah Fahim, spokesman for the Public Health Ministry (MoPH), told IRIN.

The UN World Health Organization (WHO) sent a 14-member team to different parts of the country to do a rapid polio surveillance and assessment on 30 August.

"The team concluded that there was no polio virus in those [northern] areas and that the virus has been localised in the south," said Tahir Mir, a medical officer working for WHO in Kabul.

Poliomyelitis has not been reported in Badakhshan, Takhar, Kunduz, Baghlan, Balgh, Jozjan, Badghis, Sari Pol, Bamiyan and Samangan since 2005.

A certificate of polio virus eradication can be issued when no wild polio virus is found for at least three years, according to WHO's rules.

The crippling virus has not been eradicated in the remaining 24 provinces of the country, but reported cases have dropped significantly in several other provinces, including Kabul.

However, Afghanistan has a long way to go to purge its whole territory of the virus.

At least 16 cases have been reported in the volatile south and southeast this year, according to the ministry. Seven polio cases were reported in the same regions in 2007.

"In the south and southeast, insecurity and attacks on health workers have impeded our efforts to access and immunise every child under-five," said the spokesman.

Public health officials said polio immunisation drives would be implemented countrywide, including in the polio-free north, both to consolidate the progress made and to contain the spread of the virus from the south.

"We will concentrate anti-polio efforts on southern and southeastern provinces where the virus is virulent," Fahim said, adding that the target to wipe out polio by 2011 would depend on security and health workers' access to all under-fives.

Source: Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), a project the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. IRIN is UN humanitarian news and information service, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies.

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