Despite security challenges, thousands of health workers fanned out across Afghanistan’s eastern provinces last week to administer life-saving polio drops to nearly one million children under age five, as part of a United Nations-backed campaign.
Governors of Nangarhar, Laghman, Kunar and Nuristan provinces mobilized religious and tribal elders, as well as the general public, to make the three-day campaign a success. From 17 to 19 February, health workers at some 400 locations across the provinces administered the vaccine. Supplementing the work of the stationary dispensaries, more than 5,000 teams travelled door-to-door to meet with families and vaccinate their children.
Despite the challenges for the health workers, especially given the ban on polio vaccinations by insurgents operating in remote districts, the Public Health Departments in the region reported that close coordination among relevant groups and UN agencies yielded positive results, and even prompted many volunteers to join in and help the campaign.
Last year, three new cases of polio were reported in Nangarhar, two in Laghman and one in Kunar provinces. However, no new case has been reported in Nuristan since 2010.
According to the UN World Health Organization (WHO), which supports Afghanistan’s anti-polio campaigns, polio cases have decreased by more than 99 per cent since 1988, from an estimated 350,000 cases then to 416 reported cases in 2013. Only three countries – Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan – remain polio-endemic, down from more than 125 in 1988.