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Nationwide Polio Vaccination Campaign Underway in Afghanistan


Afghan volunteers are vaccinating millions of children in a nationwide anti-polio campaign. The three-day effort is aimed at protecting more than seven million children in all 34 of the country's provinces. Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan are two of only four countries left in the world where the crippling polio virus has never been eradicated.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai helped kick off the joint U.N.-government campaign - immunizing five children in the country's capital, Kabul.

Through Tuesday evening more than 40,000 health volunteers will be going from house to house in every one of Afghanistan's 34 provinces.

Authorities say they hope to reach an estimated 7.2 million children under the age of five - even in those areas where security remains a chief concern. Minister of Health Said Mohammad Amin Fatimi says the campaign's success depends largely on local support.

"I am sure with the cooperation of the families, local authorities and Islamic scholars we will reach our target, which is one hundred percent coverage," said Fatimi. He says the ultimate goal remains the complete eradication of polio throughout Afghanistan.

The virus enters the body through the mouth and can cause partial or even complete paralysis in just a few hours. The crippling disease can infect anyone but most cases involve young children.

The World Health Organization says there were seven reported polio cases last year in Afghanistan, up slightly from the year before. And while the numbers remain low, health workers say the entire country remains at risk.

Officials say the disease persists largely because immunization campaigns have been interrupted by an on-going insurgency by the militant Taleban - ousted from power in 2001.

Afghanistan, Nigeria, India and Pakistan, are the only four countries where the polio virus has never been eradicated. The WHO says there were more than 1,800 cases worldwide in 2005.

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