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Afghanistan Launches 3-Day Polio Immunization Campaign

Afghanistan is launching a major three-day polio immunization campaign to end all indigenous cases of the disease by next year.

After years of war, Afghanistan is hoping to make-up for a lack of critical health care to conduct a major drive to end polio among its people.

While polio infection is nearly non-existent in most parts of the world, cases do still occur in some Asian and African nations.

Afghanistan reported seven cases of the crippling disease this year, at least two of which have been confirmed as indigenous strains.

While this marks a small decline from 10 cases last year, health workers are now aiming for zero indigenous cases through this latest vaccination drive, which began Tuesday.

Two United Nations agencie, the World Health Organization and UNICEF, are taking part, with funding coming from Japan, the United States, Germany and other international donors.

WHO team leader for the campaign, Nawid Sadizai, describes the ambitious project to administer millions of vaccination doses. "It will be around 2.5 million roughly, and this will take three days. Afghanistan being a difficult country communication-wise, we cannot do it in one day," he said.

But Dr. Sadizai added that stamping out non-indigenous cases will depend on efforts in regional neighbors, Pakistan and India. "We still have [the] virus circulating in the neighborhood. But we hope that it will be tackled in the neighborhood as well, and we will try to do the same in our country," he said.

Project managers say they are conducting the drive during the winter to take advantage of the polio low-season, when the virus is most vulnerable.

They add that they are concerned with current violence in parts of Afghanistan, which could pose a threat to the tens of thousands of Afghan volunteers administering the vaccine.

A second round of immunizations is slated for January.