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Polio eradication efforts

Afghanistan cannot get the polio-free status unless Pakistan overcomes the challenge. Poliovirus is transferred to and from Afghanistan as hundreds of people cross the Durand Line on daily basis. Polio is endemic in the two countries because vaccination teams could not access children in the insecure areas. Insecurity is a major challenge in front of the anti-polio vaccination drives. Insurgency wreck havoc on most parts of the two countries. Anti-polio drives are constantly hampered by insecurity. To deal with the challenges, the relevant authorities of the two countries have agreed to enhance cooperation. An Afghan delegation will land in Pakistan on Sunday to monitor an anti-polio drive in that country on January 11. The two sides will also hold quarterly meetings to discuss the problems and achievements. It is a good step.

However, without addressing the root cause, we cannot fight polio. The biggest problem is insecurity. Multiple polio vaccination drives were launched in Afghanistan, but the campaigns faced resistance in insecure parts of the country. That is why the health minister is failing miserably in the fight against polio. For instance, Helmand province where security forces are fighting the Taliban militants. How the vaccinators can access children there?

In October 2015, Daesh has prevented the health teams from vaccinating children against polio in three districts of eastern Nangarhar province. Head of Health Department of Nangarhar, Najibullah Kamawal, has confirmed it to media saying that they were unable to launch anti-polio campaigns in Achin, Haskamina and Mina Kot districts of the province. About 46,000 children were deprived of polio vaccination in these districts. Adding to the health ministry misery, four cases of polio were reported in the three districts. Last year in May, the Human Rights Watch and the Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition have documented 41 attacks on health centers and workers in the country by militant groups. The armed groups primarily targeted polio vaccinators in the past one year.

Unfortunately, in March 2015, about 1.4 million children under the age of five were deprived of polio vaccine in sixteen districts. The health minister, Ferozuddin Feroz admitted in his press briefing. Despite the fact that in 2014, at least 28 polio cases were reported, but there was no robust mechanism with the ministry last year to cover all areas. Thirteen polio cases were reported that year in Kandahar, three cases in Nangarhar, two each in Laghman, Helmand and Paktika, one each in Uruzgan, Khost, Farah, Ghazni, and Zabul.

These figures show that we are far from accomplishing the objective of making the country polio-free. To achieve the target, the government must protect the vaccination teams so the vaccinators could access children in every part of the country without let or hindrance. Improved security is crucial for success of the anti-polio drives.

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