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UN vaccinates polio in S. Afghanistan

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By ALISA TANG
Associated Press
Sat Sep 22, 6:52 AM ET

KABUL, Afghanistan – Afghan elders have given safe passage to thousands of volunteer vaccinators immunizing children against polio in Afghanistan’s violent south, a region health workers haven’t worked in for months, UNICEF said Saturday.

The vaccinators are working in violent areas of Kandahar and Helmand provinces through the help of Kandahar’s governor and local elders, who worked to ensure the health workers could travel safely, said Catherine Mbengue, UNICEF representative in Afghanistan.

“So far we have not had any reports of any incidents contrary to what has happened in each (previous) campaign,” said Mbengue, who went with vaccinators door-to-door in Kandahar.

Health workers have been abducted in the past, but Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi has said the militants would allow the workers access in southern Afghanistan for the current campaign.

The vaccinators had not been able to work in parts of Helmand province — the region that has seen the heaviest fighting between the Taliban and international forces — for a year and a half, Mbengue said.

“This is an incredible, happy development,” she said.

Some 10,000 vaccinators began the weeklong campaign on Wednesday with the aim to vaccinate 1.3 million children.

On International Peace Day, which was recognized Friday, “we were able to see that vaccination was taking place all over the country, even in places we were not able to access because of security,” Mbengue said.

Afghanistan is one of four countries — along with Pakistan, India and Nigeria — that suffers endemic polio, a preventable disease that can cause paralysis in children.

Mbengue said there have been nine cases of polio in Afghanistan this year, all of them in the south and east. Last year there were 29 cases, 21 of which were in the south.

She said she hopes that because UNICEF has been able to reach previously inaccessible districts the number of polio cases will be lower than last year.

The World Health Organization registered 1,999 cases of polio around the world last year, an increase from 1,749 in 2005. The vast majority of cases were in the endemic countries.

Polio mainly affects children under the age of 5 and is spread when unvaccinated people come into contact with the feces of those with the virus, often through water. It usually attacks the nervous system, causing paralysis, muscular atrophy, deformation and sometimes death.

___

On the Net:

Global Polio Eradication Initiative: http://www.polioeradication.org/

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Written by afghandevnews

September 22, 2007 at 3:42 pm

Posted in Health

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