Insurgency, conflict deter efforts to stamp out polio virus in Afghanistan
KABUL, Aug. 6 (Xinhua) -- The ongoing insurgency and conflict in Afghanistan have been hindering the government's increased efforts to stamp out the infectious poliomyelitis virus in the mountainous country as a fresh case was found in a restive province in late June.
On Monday, The Afghan Public Health Ministry, with the support of World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), launched a nationwide five-day campaign to give immunity vaccination dose to 9.9 million children under the age of five, the ministry said in a statement.
"This campaign is a great opportunity for all parents to vaccinate and protect the children against this paralyzing disease. All families must use this opportunity and make sure that their all children including newborns and sick children are vaccinated," Public Health Minister Dr. Ferozuddin Feroz was quoted in the statement as saying.
Despite the tireless drives over the past three decades by successive governments to eradicate polio from Afghanistan, nine cases of polio have been reported so far this year.
Meanwhile, 1.2 million children from areas inaccessible to vaccination teams will miss the ongoing vaccine drive, according to the statement.
These children will not be protected from the polio virus and the main provinces affected are four southern provinces where Taliban militants are active, including Kandahar with 117,640 children, Helmand 541,839 children, Uruzgan 119,406 children and Zabul 146,513 children.
The latest case was found in the remote Nad Ali district of Helmand in late June.
"In Afghanistan, polio cases are largely in areas where insecurity and misperception about the vaccine creates obstacles for vaccination teams," the statement read.
"I urge every parent to open the door to vaccination teams to ensure their children are safeguarded from a virus that can cause severe disability," Stefano Savi, UNICEF country deputy representative, said in the statement.
The national campaign will be conducted by 70,000 dedicated polio workers who will go to each house vaccinating children.
"This campaign is a great opportunity for us to take yet another step towards a polio-free Afghanistan," said Dr. Richard Peeperkorn, WHO representative for Afghanistan.
During the nationwide campaign vitamin A capsules will also be given to over 8.9 million children aged between six months to five years.
According to media reports, in unsafe areas where Taliban militants and militants of the Islamic State extremist group are operating, children suffer from polio and the vaccinators are reluctant to serve there.
To make the anti-polio drive succeed, Afghan government is also seeking the support of Ulema or religious scholars to encourage people for allowing their children to be vaccinated.