WHO, UNICEF launches Afghan polio vaccine campaign with Taliban support

KABUL, November 8 (Reuters) – The World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Agency launched a polio vaccination campaign in Afghanistan on Monday, the first nationwide campaign to fight the disease in three years.

Naikwali Shah Momim, National Emergency Operations Coordinator for the Afghan Ministry of Health’s polio program, told Reuters that the campaign had started in different parts of the country on Monday, but added that there were several obstacles to a shortage of trained staff.

The campaign, which aims to reach over 3 million children, had received Taliban support that would enable teams to reach children in previously inaccessible parts of the country, the WHO said.

“The urgency with which the Taliban leadership wants the polio campaign to continue demonstrates a shared commitment to maintaining the health care system and restarting essential immunizations to avert further outbreaks of preventable diseases,” said Ahmed Al Mandhari, WHO Regional Director for WHO. the eastern Mediterranean. a declaration.

Momim, however, said there was a need for more training for teams in remote areas, so the program would initially start in places like Kabul.

A child receives polio vaccination during an anti-polio campaign on the outskirts of Jalalabad, Afghanistan, December 1, 2015. REUTERS / Parwiz

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

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

Several polio workers have been killed by gunmen in eastern Afghanistan this year, although it was not clear who was behind the attacks.

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

Until the disease is completely eliminated, it remains a threat to human health in all countries, especially those with vulnerable health systems due to the risk of importing the disease, according to health experts.

Reporting by Gibran Peshiman; Author Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa

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