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1 in 3 children still unimmunized in Afghanistan

AT-KABUL: An estimated 160,000 to 200,000 children under one year of age in Afghanistan − one in three – received zero vaccinations last year. These gaps in routine immunization coverage not only put the lives of under-vaccinated children at risk but also everyone around them, the Ministry of Public Health said in a statement on Wednesday.

Insecurity in parts of the country reduces access for health workers to reach children and for families to get to health clinics, while displaced populations and those living in remote areas are also more likely to miss out on vaccines, the statement added.

“Immunization is the right of every child, we must accelerate our efforts to ensure all children in the country are vaccinated and protected from preventable diseases,” said Minister for Public Health, Dr Ferozuddin Feroz.

“Through immunization we can protect children from diseases, such as measles, polio and pneumonia − a major killer of children under 5 years of age,” Dr, Feroz added.

The remarks come as Afghanistan marks, ‘World Immunization Week’, which is celebrated annually, 24-30 April, to raise awareness about the importance of vaccination and ensure that people take action to receive all required life-saving vaccines. The theme for 2018 is: “Protected Together, #VaccinesWork”.

Efforts to eradicate polio also continue in Afghanistan and most of the country remains polio-free. In 2018, there have been 7 polio cases, mostly restricted to high-risk areas in the southern and eastern regions.

“We are seeing improvements in routine immunization coverage and new vaccines have been introduced,” said Dr Richard Peeperkorn, WHO representative in Afghanistan. “But the country is still behind schedule on the targets for disease eradication and elimination, including polio, measles, rubella, and maternal and neonatal tetanus. We must make more concerted efforts to reach all Global Vaccine Action Plan goals by 2020,” Dr. Peeperkorn added.

The Global Vaccine Action Plan was endorsed by the World Health Assembly in 2012 and is a commitment to ensure that no one misses out on vital immunization by 2020.

“We must all commit to providing every child with the lifesaving vaccines they need,” said Stefano Savi, UNICEF’s deputy representative in Afghanistan. “This includes reaching the most vulnerable children, who are often affected by conflict or living in the most remote areas of the country. Children in Afghanistan have the right to get the best start in life, to develop and progress like any child,” Savi added.

Immunization saves millions of lives globally each year and is widely recognized as one of the world’s most successful and cost-effective health interventions.

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