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Wiping out polio: Immunization campaign to declare Afghanistan polio-free in 2017

By Farhad Naibkhel-KABUL: The Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) on Sunday said that polio vaccination drive would restart with the technical and financial support of the World Health Organization (WHO), and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to achieve the goal of polio-free Afghanistan in 2017.

Afghanistan, being a war-turn country has been suffering badly since long time from polio epidemic which can cause life-long paralysis. However, it could be prevented with a simple vaccination, so today (Sunday) the MoPH announced that this country is closer than ever to being certified as polio-free country.

“As polio cases limited, we hope to end this endemic disease by the end of 2017,” National Emergency Operation Center Director, Maiwand Ahmadzai said.

Moreover, he added that few cases of polio were reported in 2016, and that was in only four districts out of 399, which revealed a great achievements in fight against this crippling threat.

However, in the past seven months no case of polio was reported across the country, he mentioned. Ahmadzai asserted that in 2015 polio cases reached to 20, but in 2016 declined to 13 cases.

Last year, seven cases of polio in Barmal district of Paktika, four cases in Shaigal district of Kunar and one case in Nawzad district of Helmand province were registered, he added.

He furthered, “polio has been limited in Afghanistan and we are hopeful to end this epidemic in Afghanistan this year.”

He added that MoPH with the technical and financial support of WHO and UNICEF would launch the first polio sub-national immunization days (SNIDs) campaign of 2017 in the nearest time.

“Through this camping over 5.6 million children would be vaccinated against polio in the southern and south-eastern regions of the country,” he noted.

Polio is a crippling disease that cannot be treated, but it can be prevented via vaccination.  All the high risk districts would be on top of the agenda of free polio campaign of the year, he insisted.

Ahmadzai highlighted that along with achievements, 2016 was a challenging year for polio eradication drive. Polio vaccinations were on hold for some time because health workers were not able to safely travel to the insecure areas of the country.

He said that insecurity and instability would be biggest challenge ahead of polio program.

MoPH will exert utmost efforts to take advantage of the opportunity and reach every unvaccinated children in order to achieve the goal and announce Afghanistan polio-free, he emphasized.

He stated that this week’s campaign would carry out by over 31,000 trained polio staffers and it would be continued up to the 3rd February.

The vaccine team have to struggle their best not to miss any children and even revisit children who were left behind during first round of polio, he said.

“Support of media channels, influential figures, religious scholars, health workers, teachers, students and community could enable the ministry to eradicate polio from the country,” he claimed.

Polio Chief of UNICEF for Afghanistan, Melissa CorKum, said that Afghanistan never has been so closed to stop polio as this time.

She said that the polio-free drive should cover each and every children across the country aimed at reaching goal of polio-free Afghanistan.

WHO Director said that polio virus is limited to small areas and this gives us an opportunity to come closer to eliminate this epidemic in Afghanistan.

He insisted that by working and struggling together we could eradicate polio from Afghanistan.

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