Kabul to vaccinate all under-fives for polio

An Afghan youngster is given an oral dose of polio vaccine. Picture: Getty
An Afghan youngster is given an oral dose of polio vaccine. Picture: Getty
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A THREE-YEAR-OLD girl has been diagnosed with the first case of polio since 2001 in the Afghan capital Kabul.

The ministry of public health has now launched a three-day campaign to vaccinate all children under five in the area. It is the capital’s first case since the Taleban’s fall in 2001.

The girl, Sakhina, is a member of the Kuchi nomadic tribe, which moves freely across most provinces in Afghanistan and her family was living in the Kasaba district in eastern Kabul.

“When they went to the hospital after an examination, it became clear it was a case of polio,” said a ministry of health spokesman, Kaneshka Baktash.

He said the girl’s family moved freely between Afghanistan and Pakistan and she had probably contracted the illness across the border.

All but one of 13 cases recorded in Afghanistan last year were contracted in Peshawar in north-western Pakistan, the world’s largest reservoir of endemic polio viruses, the World Health Organisation said in January. Sakhina has been taken to Pakistan for treatment and no other cases have been discovered in Kabul.

Polio remains endemic in Afghanistan, Pakistan and northern Nigeria, but has been almost wiped out around the world. In all three countries, Islamic extremists have obstructed health workers, preventing polio eradication campaigns from taking place.

Since the Afghan Taleban changed their policy, allowing vaccination in recent years, there has been a decline in cases in Afghanistan. Yesterday, it emerged that Sakhina was diagnosed after she became paralysed. Her father is a taxi driver who often goes to the frontier region with Pakistan, and has now taken her there for treatment.

Her uncle, Mohammed Azim, said that she complains: “I can’t stand up. The other children are playing and I cannot.”

Nearly all of the cases in Afghanistan last year were in regions close to the Pakistan border. Afghanistan has health workers at the border crossings, attempting to monitor all children who cross, and vaccinating those at risk.

But many people do not cross at formal customs posts, instead using tracks across the mountains and deserts that line the porous frontier.

The Taleban in Afghanistan remain a nationalist movement, who have been persuaded of the values of modern medicine.

But the Pakistani Taleban are a far more ideological group, similar to Boko Haram in northern Nigeria, who are focused on global jihad, and unwilling to believe anything that the West tells them.

As well as killing health workers, the Pakistani Taleban have campaigned against vaccination, spreading the malicious rumour that it is a covert policy of sterilisation.

Afghan health officials said the continuing opposition of the Pakistani Taleban was a threat, “undermining efforts” to eradicate polio in the country.