KABUL, Mar 15 – Afghan President Hamid Karzai dropped polio vaccines into the mouths of four toddlers Sunday to launch a new immunisation round amid fears unrest will prevent 200,000 children from being protected.
Afghanistan is among only four countries still afflicted by the devastating virus, already recording three new cases this year — all of them in the south where a Taliban-led insurgency is at its fiercest.
"My message to the opposition is to allow our children, who are our future youth, leaders and elders to come under the vaccination campaign," Health Minister Sayed Mohammad Amin Fatimi said in a message to insurgents.
"This is an Islamic and national duty," he said.
The operation will cover all but two of the country’s provinces, with Day Kundi and Bamyan unreachable because of winter snows and cold.
A series of campaigns over the year aims to reach 7.7 million children aged under five, officials said.
There were, however, concerns that health workers would not have access to communities in parts of the south, where the insurgency is worst and several areas are out of government control.
"We are afraid we might not reach around 200,000 children this year," UN humanitarian coordinator in Afghanistan Bo Asplund told a news conference.
Impoverished and war-stricken Afghanistan registered 31 new cases of polio last year, most of them in the south.
This was far lower than in other countries where the virus is still prevalent, according to the Afghan health ministry, which said Pakistan had 118 cases last year, India 559 and Nigeria 801.