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Thursday, June 10, 1999 Published at 17:12 GMT 18:12 UK

World: South Asia

Push to beat polio in Afghanistan

Polio campaign under difficult conditions

By BBC Correspondent William Reeve in Kabul

The Taleban and the opposition in Afghanistan have both given an undertaking to ensure that supplies reach all areas for the next round of the United Nations polio immunization programme for Afghan children beginning this Sunday.

During the latest round of the UN polio immunization days which took place last month, fighting continued in the central Hazarajat region of the country, hampering the programme there.

[ image: Fighing last month hampered polio programme]
Fighing last month hampered polio programme
Some supplies have already been flown across front lines by the International Committee of the Red Cross but there are still more supplies to follow by road.

As a goal, the United Nations says it wants to eradicate polio all around the world by the year 2000 but in Afghanistan, polio is still endemic.

Twenty years of warfare have hampered attempts to immunize all Afghan children against the disease.

Since 1994 the UN, in conjunction with the authorities and aid agencies, has been conducting special national immunization days in an attempt to vaccinate all Afghan children under the age of five.

Difficult task

Logistically, it is a very difficult task and the success rate has been low. In a country with little electricity, the polio vaccines have to be transported and stored in kerosene-powered fridges.

Almost all roads in the country are in appalling condition. Two vaccines are required to immunize each child.

A programme for the first vaccine was carried out on three days last month. The second vaccine is due to be given to children this coming Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.

There were problems for the first round, notably, in the central Hazarajat region of the country, where the Taleban captured the central township of Bamiyan from anti-Taleban forces during the course of the programme.

Immunization for several districts in the north of the country was also patchy because of the uncertain military situation there. It is still unknown how successful the programme will be this year.

In past years, the United Nations Children's Fund and the World Health Organization have claimed that most Afghan children were immunized against polio.

In reality, independent surveys have shown that in many areas of Afghanistan the success rate has so far been as little as 20%, and in some areas lower still.

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