AVA- Polio can permanently paralyze or kill victims within hours of infection. Intensive vaccination campaigns have almost eradicated the disease worldwide, but it remains endemic in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria.
Kandahar public health officials say 28 polio cases surfaced in 2018 in the world, including 20 Afghanistan and eight in Pakistan.
Dr. Abdul Shakor Nasrat, in charge of immunization at the Public Health Department of Kandahar, told media that polio virus continued to attack children in Afghanistan and Pakistan while the disease had totally been eradicated in the other world.
“Afghanistan, particularly Kandahar province, is under high threat of polio disease because most of the cases were recorded there last year”, he said.
Nasrat said nine of the 20 polio cases in Afghanistan were registered in Kandahar last year.
Three polio cases were detected in Shah Walikot district, one in Khakriz, one in Maiwand, one in Arghandab, one in Spin Boldak and two in Kandahar city, the provincial capital.
Three other polio cases were detected in Helmand, two in Uruzgan, three in Kunar, two in Nangarhar and one in Nuristan province last year.
Nasrat cited insecurity, partial implementation of anti-polio vaccination and people’s unawareness about the disease as reasons that contributed to the hike in polio virus cases in the province.
He said insecurity kept polio workers from accessing children and militants’ restriction on polio campaigns in some areas in the south also caused the increase in polio cases because more than 100,000 children missed polio drops last year.
According to government statistics, Kandahar’s population is around three million people and 600,000 of them are children under the age of five years.
Children in some districts of Kandahar and Helmand province could not be vaccinated against polio for the past one and a half years, according to Nasrat.
The Taliban maintain the vaccination campaign should be implemented in mosques where children should be collected, but the Ministry of Public Health insists on house to house campaign, he added.
Nasrat said many children were missed out even in house to house vaccination and more children would be deprived of the vaccine if administered through mosques.
The Taliban do not officially comment why they have banned vaccination campaigns in areas under their control.
But sources say the Taliban have banned vaccination in their areas because they believe government-hired workers collect information about them.
However, health officials reject this belief of the Taliban and say they had tasked local influential elders several times to talk with the Taliban and convince them, but these efforts remain unsuccessful so far.
Nasrat said some other problems also contributed to the increase in polio cases in Kandahar, including high movement of people between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Around 15,000 people daily cross the Spin Boldak border between the two countries, where sometimes the polio virus pass from one country to another.
But he added they had tasked teams with vaccinating children upon entering Afghanistan.
Nasrat asked government officials, militants and people to join hands in vaccinating every child against the crippling disease.
Kandahar public health director Dr. Abdul Qayum Pukhla said Kandahar was under high threat of polio virus and children should not become a victim of politics.
“Eradicating communicable diseases is not a simple task, it needs cooperation of the health sector with other sectors as well as communities”, he added.
He said the Public Health Ministry and its partners were trying to eradicate polio virus by vaccinating children, but anti-polio campaigns faced problems in some cases.
He mentioned Kandahar’s Shahwalikot, Mianshin, Khakrez, Nesh and Ghorak districts where vaccination did not take place over the past seven months and as a result, most positive polio cases surfaced in Shahwalikot district. Militants also denied polio drops to children in these districts.
Pukhla demanded all the warring sides to ensure polio vaccination was conducted in a peaceful environment. He also did not rule out negligence in some cases by polio workers during campaigns.
He said 4,500 volunteers offered their services to polio campaigns and these individuals were referred to them by the communities.
He said in future polio vaccine would be administered to children through injection besides drops in mouth to make sure their lives were protected.
According to the Public Health Department, there are no health services in 94 Kandahar localities or 60 percent of the province residents are deprived of health facilities.
A 350-bed hospital and 50 clinics run by the state are offering health services in Kandahar in addition to 20 private health facilities.
Syed Kamal Hashim, UNICEF polio program head for Afghanistan, said polio vaccination could not be carried out in some districts in the southern zone. He said the only way to eradicate polio was access to all areas and vaccination of every child.
He said environmental test showed the polio virus had been transferred to Kandahar and its further spread from Kandahar was imminent because most people from other areas travelled to Kandahar.
Deputy Governor Abdul Hanan Munib said he often arranged meetings to increase cooperation and coordination regarding implementation of polio vaccination.
He added the provincial government was trying hard to remove all hurdles in the way of polio vaccination.
Meanwhile, residents of Kandahar City said militant groups should not endanger the lives of their children for reaching their political goals.
Abdul Rahman, a resident of Shah Walikot district, said insurgents had banned polio vaccination in Shahwalikot since long like in other districts.
He added the rebels had banned the vaccination because they wanted their own men to be recruited in the process.
But such individuals after their recruitment had not been sincere with the anti-polio drive and they wasted the vital drops and filled forms on their own to show they had discharged their duties, he claimed.
Public Health Director Dr. Abdul Shakor Nasrat said a new plan was being worked out to ensure polio drops reached all children in order to eradicate the virus.
He said polio vaccinations would be conducted at every mosque and identified sites in areas under militants’ control.