President Karzai watching Burnet's Professor Mike Toole AM vaccinate a child at the launch of the National Immunisation Days in Kabul.
By Burnet Deputy Director, Professor Mike Toole AM.
This photo was taken at the launch of Afghanistan’s National Polio Immunisation Days in Kabul on 25 August 2013. The launch was attended by President Karzai and his two vice-presidents. I was representing the Independent Monitoring Board of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.
My visit took me to Kabul and Kandahar, the capital of the troubled Southern Region.
Afghanistan is one of three countries that have never interrupted the transmission of the wild poliovirus, which causes life-long paralysis in young children.
This year has seen significant improvement in the polio situation. So far, just four cases have been reported compared with 17 this time last year. Most importantly, the strain of the virus that had been circulating in the conflict-affected South has been eliminated. No cases of polio have been reported in the South since November 2012. All four cases this year have been reported in the East, probably imported from neighbouring Pakistan.
Afghanistan is tantalisingly close to eliminating polio. This has been due to hard work (already this year they have conducted 10 mass vaccination campaigns), innovation (such as mapping nomad movements and accessing them for vaccination at the peak times of migration), and maintaining political neutrality.
Anti-government elements, including the Afghan Taliban, have been engaged through intermediaries to support vaccination campaigns.
As of this month, there remain only two small sub-districts in the South that are inaccessible by vaccination teams.
Having reviewed the polio program in Afghanistan with my Burnet colleague, Dr Ben Coghlan in 2009, I was gratified to see the many improvements in the quality of the program. Here’s hoping that this last phase of the program will experience success.
Professor Mike Toole AM