Efforts to eradicate polio include visiting one
neighbourhood after another to vaccinate
Afghan children against the disease.
It takes only a few seconds to vaccinate a child against polio, but the results last a lifetime. Yet, in Afghanistan, a country where polio persists, security concerns routinely test the resolve of thousands of Afghan volunteers who participate in national and provincial vaccination campaigns. They persevere reaching children in communities across the country, particularly in the south where most cases of the debilitating disease have been reported in the past.
“To the campaign volunteers, who went house to house, administering the polio vaccine to the children of Kandahar, thank you,” said Tim Martin, Representative of Canada in Kandahar, during a news conference called to recognize the exceptional contributions of volunteers in Kandahar province. “Your efforts have saved lives, and have helped build a brighter future for the people of this country.”
Since 2008, Canada has invested $60 million in the eradication of polio in Afghanistan, making Canada the largest international donor to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative in the country. Canada’s partners in the international community include the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
While polio was eliminated in the industrialized world in the 1950s, the disease remains endemic in a number of developing countries. In Afghanistan, 25 cases were reported in 2010, down from 39 in 2009. The majority of cases have occurred in the more volatile southern provinces where vaccination programs have missed children, often because of security concerns. Kandahar province accounted for 11 cases in 2010, down from 21 in 2009. As of June this year, 8 cases were reported nationally, three of these cases were reported in Kandahar.
Vaccination campaigns in the south involving more than 8,000 volunteers have targeted 1.3 million children younger than the age of five, including 400,000 in Kandahar province, despite the dangers that these volunteers often face.
“What we say here today does not do justice to the courage, bravery and dedication to humanitarian ideals that these volunteers have shown,” Mr. Martin told international and local journalists during his presentation.
Nationally, more than 7 million children continue to be vaccinated, with 22,000 children vaccinated by transit teams deployed along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
During the Kandahar news conference, Mr. Martin also thanked Dr. Abdul Qayum Pokhla, the provincial director of public health, for his commitment, and that of his department, to the vaccination program.
Canada will continue to support polio vaccination campaigns in Afghanistan as part of a $58.5 million investment in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative through the Maternal and Newborn Health Initiative, announced at the G-8 Summit in Muskoka in June 2010.
Shortly after the media event in Kandahar, WHO’s Dr. Bruce Aylward, Assistant Director-General, Polio, Emergencies and Country Collaboration, expressed his appreciation for Canada’s recognition of Afghan volunteers.
“The tribute you paid to polio volunteers in Afghanistan provides additional incentive for them to continue their battle to stop polio, allowing the people of Afghanistan to reap the full economic and humanitarian benefits of a polio-free country,” Dr. Aylward said in a letter to Mr. Martin.
“We are extremely grateful to Canada for its leadership and support to polio eradication, especially through the Canadian International Development Agency,” he said.
For more information see the Canadian International Development Agency’s polio eradication signature project.