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UN Starts Polio Immunizations in Afghanistan - 2001-11-06

United Nations aid agencies are starting a three-day polio immunization campaign in Afghanistan. The agencies are hoping to immunize about 5 million children under five years of age.

This is the fifth and last round of polio immunizations in Afghanistan this year. The campaign is being coordinated by the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) with cooperation from the ruling Taleban.

Tens of thousands of volunteers are involved in locating and vaccinating millions of children against this crippling disease.

WHO Spokesman Gregory Hartl says many people inside Afghanistan are on the move because of the air strikes and drought. "The priority children are those who are in dire circumstances, if you like, because of poor food and living conditions," he said. "So, that is why the emphasis on those on the move, basically," said Mr. Hartl. "But, we do have teams. We are trying to cover as much of Afghanistan as possible, and Pakistan, because it is being coordinated in cross-border areas."

Mr. Hartl says all children who are immunized against polio also will receive vitamin A supplements. He says these vitamins will help protect the children against diseases such as measles during the winter.

In 1988, the World Health Organization began a global campaign to eradicate polio by the year 2005.

When the campaign started, an estimated 350,000 children around the world had polio. Last year, fewer than 3,500 cases were found.

Afghanistan and Pakistan are among the countries where the polio virus is still prevalent. Other countries include India, Nigeria and a number of countries at war in Africa.