Polio vaccination campaign to begin in Afghanistan

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Health workers in Afghanistan will begin a house-to-house polio vaccination drive next month after the new Taliban government agreed to support the campaign, the World Health Organization and the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF said on Monday.

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Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan are the last countries in the world with endemic polio, an incurable and highly infectious disease transmitted through sewage that can cause crippling paralysis in young children.

Polio has been virtually eliminated globally through a decades-long inoculation drive. But insecurity, inaccessible terrain, mass displacement and suspicion of outside interference have hampered mass vaccination in Afghanistan and some areas of Pakistan.

The campaign due to start on Nov. 8 will be the first in more than three years aimed at all children in Afghanistan, including more than 3 million in remote and previously inaccessible areas.

“This decision will allow us to make a giant stride in the efforts to eradicate polio,” Herve Ludovic De Lys, UNICEF Representative in Afghanistan, said in a statement.

“To eliminate polio completely, every child in every household across Afghanistan must be vaccinated, and with our partners, this is what we are setting out to do,” he said.

A second campaign, due to begin in coordination with a campaign in Pakistan in December, has also been agreed.

According to figures compiled before the collapse of the Western-backed government in August, there was one reported case of the one wild poliovirus type 1 (WPV1) in Afghanistan in 2021, compared with 56 in 2020.

However until the disease is eliminated completely, it remains a threat to human health in all countries, especially those with vulnerable health systems because of the risk of
importing the disease.

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