Covid-19 restrictions lead to surge in polio cases in Afghanistan

Kabul, Sep 28 (efe-epa).- The number of polio cases in Afghanistan have gone up drastically, expanding to regions earlier declared free of the disease, mainly due to Covid-19 restrictions and the security situation, officials told EFE on Monday.

The country has already detected at least 49 cases of the disease this year, the highest since 2011.

“Unfortunately due to coronavirus restrictions, insecurity and the continued ban on house-to-house vaccination campaigns, polio transmission has expanded to new areas which were polio-free in past years,” Mirjan Rasekh, the spokesperson for the polio programs of the Afghan health ministry, told EFE.

Rasekh said that the disease had continued to spread even though in recent years “we were close to eliminating the virus,” bringing down infections to almost zero and restricting its spread to the southern and eastern parts of the country.

The spokesperson said that out of the 49 cases reported this year, 33 were found in southern Afghanistan, two in the east, and the remaining in erstwhile “polio-free” regions.

The most recent case of polio was detected in the remote western province of Badghis in a “four-months old baby boy, who missed out on the polio vaccine during the COVID-19 restrictions, and was infected with the virus,” said Rasekh, adding that vaccination programs had been delayed by months.

During the restrictions aimed at containing the pandemic, at least five rounds of the national-level immunization campaigns have been lost, depriving nearly 10 million children of the polio vaccine.

The Afghan health ministry on Monday launched a complementary polio vaccination drive which will continue for the next five days and cover more than 2.2 million children in 10 provinces.

“I call on parents to take the polio virus seriously, just like they took the coronavirus, and to vaccinate their children in each round of the vaccinations against this crippling and fatal disease” Public Health Minister Ahmad Jawad Osmani said in a statement Monday.

Rasekh also expressed concerns over the possibility of the Taliban not allowing the vaccination campaign in certain regions under their control.

“If we are not allowed to conduct house to house vaccine campaigns, there is a threat of the polio virus expanding to more new areas quickly. We are asking the parties at war to allow us to reach every child and immunize them,” the spokesperson said.

Afghanistan and Pakistan are currently the only two countries in the world where the polio virus is still in transmission and dozens of positive cases are registered annually among children under the age of five. EFE-EPA


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