KATHMANDU, 11 August 2020 – Polio immunization campaigns have resumed in Afghanistan and Pakistan – the last two polio-endemic countries in the world – months after COVID-19 left 50 million children without their polio vaccine.
In Afghanistan, polio immunization programmes restarted in three provinces in July. A second campaign covering almost half of the country will start this month. In Pakistan, a initial round of vaccinations took place at the end of July, covering about 780,000 children. A nationwide vaccination campaign is slated to start later this month.
“These life-saving vaccinations are critical if children are to avoid yet another health emergency,” said Jean Gough, UNICEF Regional Director for 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.”
Polio is a highly-infectious, crippling and sometimes fatal disease that can be avoided with a vaccine. Children under the age of five are particularly vulnerable.
Child vaccination drives, including polio campaigns, were halted in both Afghanistan and Pakistan in March 2020 to avoid the risk of COVID-19 transmission to children, caregivers and vaccinators themselves. As a result, reported polio cases have reached 34 in Afghanistan and 63 in Pakistan, including in some previously polio-free parts of the country.
The application of new vaccination guidelines and the use of protective equipment by frontline health workers will help ensure that vaccination campaigns resume safely.
However, while every effort will be made to reach children nationwide in both countries, UNICEF is concerned that that up to 1 million children in Afghanistan could miss out as door-to-door vaccinations are not possible in some areas and parents will have to make their way to health clinics to have their child vaccinated. In Pakistan, the suspension of vaccination drives has also resulted in the expansion and introduction of the disease into new areas of the country.
“Although we have experienced new challenges and a set-back 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,” said Jean Gough. “Together with the respective Governments and other partners including the WHO, Rotary, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and with the dedicated work by frontline health workers, we are committed to reaching every child.”