Afghans head to remote mountains in polio battle
Afghan health workers battling polio will set off into remote mountains next week hoping to reach about two million children who missed an immunization drive because they were cut off by heavy snow.
Afghanistan is on the verge of eradicating polio with only one case reported so far this year compared with 27 in 2000.
“The campaign is a vital step in ensuring that no children are missed in the nationwide effort,” Edward Carwardine, a spokesman for the U.N. Children’s Fund, said on Thursday.
Some health workers will have to ride donkeys to reach children living in mountain villages blanketed in March by the heaviest snow in years.
The World Health Organisation is campaigning to halt the spread of the crippling disease around the world by the end of this year.
Afghanistan’s immunization drives have been successful but Carwardine said extra effort would be needed to eradicate the disease.
“The concern is the campaign approach is not enough,” he said. “You really need routine immunization or you’re not going to stamp it out permanently.”
It was hoped polio immunization would soon be part of a package of minimum health services available to all, he said. Afghanistan had four cases of polio last year.
The viral disease of the brain and spinal cord, which mainly affects children under five, can cause irreversible paralysis in a matter of hours. Some cases are fatal.
An outbreak raging through Yemen had paralysed 108 children and the number of confirmed cases in an outbreak in Indonesia had risen to 14, the WHO said this week.
The WHO has battled setbacks in the last two years since Nigeria’s northern state of Kano banned immunisation out of fear it could cause sterility or spread HIV/AIDS. Vaccinations resumed after a 10-month ban.
But the virus spread across Africa, crossed the Red Sea into Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and reached Indonesia - infecting 16 previously polio-free countries in all.
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