Polio risk from two directions
KABUL, 6 October 2010 (IRIN) - Hopes for a
polio-free northern Afghanistan have been dashed after
a case was reported in the northern Kunduz Province in
August, almost a decade since the last one.
The crippling virus has been eliminated in most
parts of the landlocked country, except in the
insecure south and eastern provinces.
Eighteen polio cases have been confirmed this year:
15 in the southern Kandahar, Helmand, Farah and
Urozgan provinces; two in eastern Nangarhar Province;
and now a 13-month-old boy in Kunduz.
Initially, health officials assumed the virus could
have migrated from neighbouring Tajikistan where more
than 450 polio cases have been reported this year.
However, laboratory tests pointed to another
“The virus is closely linked with the current
circulation in the FATA [Federally Administered Tribal
Areas] of Pakistan, a probable indication of
importation from there,” Arshad Quddus, an official of
the UN World Health Organization (WHO), told IRIN.
The Kunduz boy has been permanently paralyzed,
officials said. It is now believed he was infected in
Pakistan from where his family returned to Kunduz
Province earlier this year.
At least 69 polio cases were reported in Pakistan
from January to September 2010.
Millions of Afghan refugees live in Pakistan and
tens of thousands of people move across the 2,400km
porous border every day.
Risks from Tajikistan
A major outbreak of wild polio virus has been
reported in Tajikistan, which has spilled over to
Turkmenistan and Russia, according to UN agencies.
“We are gravely concerned about the spread of polio
virus from Tajikistan to Afghanistan,” Suraya Dalil,
the acting Health Minister of Afghanistan, said during
the launch of a three-day nationwide polio
immunization campaign on 3 October.
The campaign, funded by UN agencies and other
donors, targeted 7.8 million children in all 34
The situation in Tajikistan as well as the reported
polio case in Kunduz Province have resulted in
enhanced border surveillance and immunization,
“We vaccinate every person – children and adults –
who crosses the Afghanistan-Tajikistan border,” Nabi
Azeem, Kunduz’s health director, told IRIN, adding
that health posts had been established at several
The type 1 polio virus in Tajikistan is linked to a
strain also seen in India’s Uttar Pradesh Province,
health officials said.
In Afghanistan, types 1 and 3 have been in
circulation for which bivalent oral polio vaccines
have been used since December 2009.
Afghanistan has been struggling to wipe out polio
with several rounds of immunization every year. War,
lack of access to every child and low awareness among
families are the major obstacles towards eradication,
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