Polio vaccination campaigns have resumed in Afghanistan and Pakistan – the last two polio-endemic countries in the world – after a “surge” in cases.
The pandemic halted campaigns in both countries in March and confirmed cases have now reached 34 in Afghanistan and 63 in Pakistan – where cases are being recorded in areas of the country previously free of the disease.
According to Afghanistan’s health ministry, most of the new cases this year have been recorded in the southern provinces. “It’s a surge,” said Akmal Samsour, a health ministry spokesperson.
“The reason is that we didn’t have a door-to-door vaccination campaign over the last three months as the ministry has been concerned that the volunteers who vaccinate the children may help the [Covid-19] virus to spread.”
After coronavirus left an estimated 50 million children without a polio vaccine programmes restarted in three provinces in Afghanistan during July, with a second campaign covering almost half of the country due to start this month. In Pakistan an initial round of vaccinations took place at the end of July, covering about 780,000 children, with a nationwide campaign planned for later this month.
“These life-saving vaccinations are critical if children are to avoid yet another health emergency,” said Jean Gough, Unicef director in South Asia. “As the world has come to see only too well, viruses know no borders and no child is safe from polio until every child is safe.”
“Although we have experienced new challenges and a setback in the fight against polio because of Covid-19, the eradication of this contagious disease will get back on track and is firmly within our reach,” Gough said.