World Health Organization

                    Afghanistan Crisis

    Health Update

    31 December 2001

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Measles campaign immunizations in Afghanistan

In an attempt to reduce the number of Afghan children who die of preventable diseases, the Ministry of Public Health, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), World Health Organization (WHO), and NGOs are jointly kicking off a measles immunization campaign to vaccinate about nine million Afghan children who are between six months and twelve years of age. The campaign will cost over $8,000,000.

This morning Afghanistan's Deputy Minister of Public Health, on behalf of Dr Sohila Sediq the new Health Minister, inaugurated the countrywide program at Indira Gandhi Hospital in Kabul. The campaign will start in Kabul on New Year’s Day. During the next three months, it will continue all over the country, reaching children also in the most difficult areas to access as well as displaced children.

All over the world measles is the leading cause of childhood vaccine preventable deaths. It killed over three-quarters of a million children worldwide in 2000. Measles is very easily spread and epidemics are more likely where people live in poverty and in overcrowded conditions. Poorly nourished children are especially susceptible to severe forms of the disease.

Afghanistan is third on the list of the top twenty countries with the highest measles mortality and measles is the largest killer of children in the country. It is responsible for an estimated 40% or more of all vaccine preventable childhood deaths. The number of children who die from measles in Afghanistan is estimated at 35,000 per year. Despite all efforts, overall just fewer than 40% of Afghan children get the vaccines they need to help them survive childhood diseases. Measles immunization campaigns in the past have been hampered by lack of funds, conflict, and shortage of trained personnel.

This year, given the current humanitarian crisis, high displacement levels, extreme poverty, cold, prolonged malnutrition and poor access to health services, Afghan children are more at risk than ever before. The sooner they are vaccinated against measles, the better. This eight million-dollar campaign will give millions of Afghan children a chance to survive.

UNICEF is providing the vaccines, syringes and the incentives to vaccinators, WHO is training all the vaccination teams to ensure safe vaccine handling and injection practices, and will ensure the strategic monitoring of the campaign.

Health NGOs present in Afghanistan will assist by carrying out immunizations, monitoring local activities and mobilizing parents and caretakers to bring children to immunizations.

The key partners providing financial support to this joint strategy include the governments of Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States, as well as the UN Foundation, UNICEF committees in Germany and Japan, and WHO.

                                                                                                                                                                                              

For further information please contact: Fadela Chaib, WHO Press Officer, Afghanistan crisis, +92 300 854 0462, fadelac@whoafg.org or Loretta Hieber Girardet, (+41 22) 791 3949. Enquiries can also be directed to the Office of the Spokesperson, WHO, Geneva. Tel:(+41 22) 791 4458; Fax: (+41 22) 791 4858; E-mail: hartlg@who.int. All WHO Press Releases; Fact Sheets and Features as well as other WHO information on this subject can be obtained on Internet on the WHO home page: http://www.who.int