Millions of Afghan children inoculated against measles, polio in nationwide campaign

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Millions of Afghan children have been vaccinated during the first nationwide integrated measles and polio campaign in Afghanistan since the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) came to power in August 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Thursday.

Afghanistan has vaccinated 5.36 million nine- to 59-month old children against measles while 6.1 million infants to 59-month-olds received oral polio vaccine during the vaccination drive held from 26 November to 12 December.

Based on the data from Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Health Expanded Programme on Immunization, the campaign covered 329 districts in all 34 provinces of the country – with 4,341 vaccination teams of four members on each team.

“It warms my heart that we were able to protect Afghan children from measles and polio as we enter the harsh winter season in the country”, said Luo Dapeng, the World Health Organization Representative in Afghanistan.

“I thank all the health workers, partners and donors who made this possible”.

Measles is a dangerous disease, with complications that can include severe diarrhea and dehydration; pneumonia, ear and eye complications; encephalitis or swelling of the brain; and death.

This year, many outbreaks were reported in Afghanistan, mostly among children under age five.

There is no specific treatment for measles and the only reliable protection from measles is vaccination.

“While measles is highly contagious, it is also a preventable disease”, said Dapeng. “We must not lose the decades of progress we have achieved in immunizing and protecting Afghan children”.

As of November, 5,484 cases were confirmed, with approximately 300 deaths attributed to measles infection.

Prior to the nationwide drive, a series of subnational measles immunization campaigns were conducted in 141 districts covering approximately three million children.

“The measles vaccine is safe and has been in use for more than 50 years”, the senior WHO official said.

“The benefits of vaccination are clear, as evidence shows measles vaccination saved over 23 million lives worldwide over the past 20-year period”.

WHO and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) supported the measles campaign in Afghanistan with vaccine procurement and delivery and the development of immunization guidelines and communication materials.

The UN agencies also helped to build the capacity of health workers to manage and implement the drive and ensure that all eligible children are protected through safe and effective vaccines for measles and polio, WHO reported.—Ariana news