7 May 1999


7 May 1999

Press Release


19990507 ISLAMABAD, 7 May (UN Information Centre) -- The first round of National Immunization Days (NIDs) against poliomyelitis will be carried out from 9 to 11 May in Afghanistan. Under the auspices of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), World Health Organization (WHO) and the Ministry of Public Health, this important campaign will involve over 19,000 volunteers, health workers and social mobilizers.

That was announced at the weekly press briefing at the United Nations Information Centre in Islamabad today by WHO Representative for Afghanistan, Dr. Mohamed Abdi Jama, and the UNICEF Representative for Afghanistan, Louis- Georges Arsenault.

All 4.3 million Afghan children under five years of age are targeted in both rounds for this year's polio vaccination campaign. In addition, about 3.6 million children between one and five years old are expected to benefit from vitamin A supplementation during the second round, to be conducted from 13 to 15 June.

Much progress has been made in reducing the number of polio cases globally: from 35,251 in 1988 to 3,000 in 1998. Polio is still endemic in Afghanistan. A surveillance system was established in September 1997, which continues to function despite the ongoing conflict and complex situation inside Afghanistan. So far, 85 cases of confirmed polio have been detected.

Mass immunization campaigns and NIDs have been conducted in Afghanistan since 1994. Every year, Days of Tranquillity have been negotiated by the United Nations with all sides in the conflict so that more children could be reached with the oral polio vaccine (OPV). In 1998, vaccination was provided in Bamiyan through such negotiations, but the northern region was not reached. This year, the United Nations has again initiated negotiations with the Kabul authorities and with the leaders of the Northern Alliance to observe the Days of Tranquillity for both rounds.

This campaign is part of the ongoing global commitment to eradicate polio by the end of the year 2000. Provisions are being made for an intensified effort in 1999 and 2000 -– with another set of NIDs later this

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year and two sets scheduled for May/June and October/November in 2000 -– to attain polio eradication in Afghanistan.

Dr. Jama estimated that there will be a global saving of $1.5 billion annually once the world achieves the eradication target. However, that is only possible when each and every country in the world succeeds in eradicating the wild poliovirus from its environment. In simple terms, this means that if Afghanistan or any other country were not able to reach the eradication target, the entire world would continue spending the enormous amount of $1.5 billion on immunization against polio, he said.

Over 10 non-governmental organizations and other United Nations agencies are mobilizing communities to ensure that parents take their children for the vaccination. Immunization will be carried out through "OPV posts" established in public places such as mosques, madrasas, health posts or private houses where the target group will have relatively easy access.

The UNICEF Representative informed correspondents that as of today, 278,330 vials of oral polio vaccine, containing 5.56 million doses, have been distributed to all the regions, in addition to the distribution of 6,328 vaccine carriers and 371 megaphones.

According to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, children have the right to health. Article 24 of the Convention calls upon States to give special emphasis to the provision of primary and preventive health care. Further, article 24 states that international cooperation should be encouraged to achieve every child's right to health.

The Spokesperson for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Stephanie Bunker, briefed correspondents about the complex role of the United Nations in countries in crisis. She noted that in such countries, the United Nations must play a key role in resolving the conflict, building peace and delivering humanitarian assistance.

Because the United Nations is required to deliver assistance based on the principles of universality, impartiality, neutrality and on the basis of need, in urgent cases such as child immunization, the United Nations in countries in which there is no initiatives provide an opportunity for increasing the capacity of the Afghan people so that they will be enabled to determine and realize their own priorities. These activities are designed in such a way to ensure that indigenous ownership of those activities increases, she concluded.

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For information media. Not an official record.