MANHATTAN: Pakistan and Afghanistan have restarted polio vaccinations after their campaigns were interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic nearly six months ago, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said Tuesday.
Both countries suspended inoculating children against polio in March to focus efforts on the emerging coronavirus crisis.
In the months since, there have been 34 polio cases in Afghanistan and 63 in Pakistan — some in previously polio-free areas, the UN agency said.
“These life-saving vaccinations are critical if children are to avoid yet another health emergency”, Jean Gough, UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia, said in statement.
“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”, she added.
Afghanistan and Pakistan are the last two polio-endemic countries in the world and the coronavirus pandemic had almost 50 million children without their polio vaccines, an easy protection against the highly infectious, crippling and sometimes fatal disease. Children under the age of five are particularly vulnerable.
The application of new vaccination guidelines and the use of protective equipment by frontline health workers will help ensure that vaccination campaigns resume safely.
According to UNICEF, while every effort will be made to reach children nationwide in both countries, there are concerns that up to a million children in Afghanistan could miss out as door-to-door vaccinations which are not possible in some remote areas, and parents will have to make their way to health clinics to have their child vaccinated.
Nonetheless, Ms Gough said that although new challenges could compound the coronavirus disruption, “the eradication of this contagious disease will get back on track and is firmly within our reach.”
“Together with the respective governments and other partners including the WHO (UN World Health Organization), Rotary, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – and with the dedicated work by frontline health workers – we are committed to reaching every child”, she said.
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