Fighting a stubborn poliovirus
KABUL, 6 July 2009 (IRIN) - Despite efforts to
eliminate polio in Afghanistan since 1980, the disease
is still prevalent: At least 10 children have caught
the virus in the past six months, according to health
Immunization coverage has increased in the past
seven years from 32 percent in 2001 to over 80 percent
in 2007, according to UN World Health Organization
(WHO) statistics, and no polio case was reported in
northern and central parts of the country in 2008,
prompting the Health Ministry and WHO to say the
poliovirus had been restricted to only a few
conflict-affected provinces in the south and
However, there has been a recent confirmed case in
the northern province of Kapisa, and nine other cases
have been reported in the southern provinces of
Kandahar and Helmand, and in Nooristan (in the east).
In 2008 WHO reported 31 polio cases in Afghanistan.
The immunization of over seven million under-five
children requires about US$18 million a year, most of
which comes from international donors.
Access to children in insecure areas has long been
a major obstacle for polio immunization drives. Health
workers have often been attacked, harassed and
kidnapped by insurgents or criminals, according to
Only 13 percent of children in the southern
provinces routinely received oral poliovirus vaccine
compared to 47 percent in the southeast, 66 percent in
the east and 69 percent in central areas, according to
a WHO weekly epidemiological record in March 2009.
About 200,000 children miss out on polio drops
every time the vaccinators conduct a nationwide
immunization drive, it said.
“Three things impede polio immunization in Helmand
Province: First the insecurity, second a lack of
public awareness, and very low payments to
vaccinators,” said Jan Agha, a local health worker.
“The Taliban often oppose vaccinations. They
threaten and beat vaccinators and break their
vaccination kits… so people don’t want to risk their
lives for 150 Afghanis [US$3] a day,” said a
vaccinator in Kandahar Province who declined to be
Also, the return of Afghan refugees from Pakistan
and unregulated cross border movements between the two
countries have contributed to the movement of the
poliovirus, health officials say.
Poliovirus is endemic in four countries in the
world: Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Nigeria.
But the Afghan government has an ambitious goal:
“We aim to eradicate polio by the end of 2010,” Aqa
Gul Dost, head of the Health Ministry’s immunization
department, told IRIN.
“Technically it’s very possible to finish the job
in this period if vaccinators have access to every
child for 5-6 rounds of immunization,” said Tahir
Pervaiz Mir, WHO’s polio medical officer in Kabul.
“We call on all warring parties to allow access to
children and also call on parents to immunize their
children,” said Dost.
Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), a
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the views of the United Nations or its agencies.