By Aziz Froutan
KABUL, Afghanistan, 29 December 2011 – Meeting at the immunization centre of the Indira Ghandi Hospital in bustling Kabul on 10 December, representatives of the Government of Japan, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and UNICEF announced the Government of Japan’s pledge of US$9.3 million to fund an infectious disease prevention programme for the children of Afghanistan.
The funds will be used to accelerate routine immunizations in communities with low health-care coverage, including areas where the polio virus remains endemic, in order to ensure that all young children – and particularly infants – receive the oral polio vaccine. The polio eradication efforts will be led by the Ministry of Health, with UNICEF providing technical and other support.
Expressing thanks on behalf of the Government and people of Afghanistan, Dr. Suraya Dalil, Acting Minister of Public Health, said, “It is remarkable to note the continued support of the Government of Japan, particularly in the wake of major challenges at home following the devastating tsunami and earthquake earlier this year.”
A high priority
Japanese Ambassador to Afghanistan Reiichiro Takahashi noted that the Government of Japan has afforded high priority to global polio eradication efforts. “Putting an end to the transmission of this contagious and preventable disease is particularly important in Afghanistan, where polio continues to affect too many children,” he said.
This gift is the Government of Japan’s largest contribution to polio efforts in the last several years. The funding aims to help Afghanistan meet the goal of polio eradication within the country by the end of 2012.
Senior Deputy Resident Representative of JICA Shigeya Kobayashi emphasized that joint efforts are crucial to stopping the disease.
“I recognize there is a certain progress in polio eradication in this country thanks to the strong initiative of the Ministry of Public Health, and with great support by UNICEF, WHO and other partners,” he said.
Since 1988, the global prevalence of polio has decreased by more than 99 per cent. Today, there are only four countries – Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan – where the disease remains endemic, meaning more children are affected by polio in South Asia than in any other part of the world. And while most of Afghanistan is now free of the disease, polio persists in 13 southern districts where immunization coverage has been hindered by conflict.
Families and communities face a wide range of challenges – including not just conflict, but also poverty and gender inequality – to raising healthy children.
“Some of these challenges are beyond their control,” said UNICEF Representative in Afghanistan Peter Crowley. “But ensuring that children receive the full range of readily available, safe and effective vaccines is one very concrete way parents, caregivers and leaders can help ensure that the next generation of Afghan children grow into healthy and productive adults, capable of contributing to the development of a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan.”