| 29 May 2024, Wednesday |

WHO, UNICEF launch Afghan polio vaccine campaign with Taliban backing

On Monday, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Agency (UNICEF) launched the first statewide polio vaccination campaign in three years in Afghanistan.

The National Emergency Operations Coordinator for the polio program at Afghanistan’s health ministry, Naikwali Shah Momim, told Reuters that the campaign had begun in several parts of the country on Monday, but that there were significant challenges, including a dearth of trained personnel.

The effort, which aims to reach over 3 million children, has obtained Taliban support, allowing teams to reach children in previously unreachable sections of the nation, according to the WHO.

“The urgency with which the Taliban leadership wants the polio campaign to proceed demonstrates a joint commitment to maintain the health system and restart essential immunizations to avert further outbreaks of preventable diseases,” said Ahmed Al Mandhari, WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean, in a statement.

However, Momim said that more training was needed for teams in remote areas, so the programme would initially start in places such as Kabul.

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.

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

According to WHO 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.

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, according to health experts.

  • Reuters