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Afghanistan first in world to use new vaccine against polio

Kabul, 15 December 2009 (http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/media_52139.html): A new vaccine against polio was be used for the first time on December 15th in the national polio immunization campaigns. The bivalent oral polio vaccine (bOPV), recommended by the Advisory Committee on Poliomyelitis Eradication as a critical tool to eradicate polio, can provide the optimal concurrent protection needed by young children against both surviving serotypes (types 1 and 3) of the paralyzing virus. This vastly simplifies the logistics of vaccination in the conflict-affected parts of this country. This sub-national immunization campaign, from 15-17 December, delivered bOPV to 2.8 million children under five in the Southern, South-Eastern and Eastern Regions of Afghanistan.

Most of Afghanistan is polio-free: 28 out of the 31 children affected with polio in 2009 came from 13 districts (of 329 districts in the country). In 2009, polio eradication efforts in Afghanistan focused on improving operations and creating a safe environment for vaccination teams. Due to such preparations and strengthened supervision and staffing, the proportion of the nearly 1.2 million children under five years old in the Southern Region who could not be reached was reduced from more than 20 per cent in early 2009, down to 5 per cent during the July and September 2009 campaigns. The availability of bOPV multiplies the effect of such improvements.

Four countries in the world never eradicated polio transmission – Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan. Types 1 and 3 polio circulate in limited parts of all these countries, and the others will follow Afghanistan's lead in using bOPV during the coming months, marking the adoption of a major new tool in the international effort to eradicate polio. While the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, a public-private partnership leading the effort, has reduced the incidence of polio by more than 99 per cent (from an estimated 1000 children affected daily in 1988 to 1483 children in all of 2009). The consequences are severe beyond those areas: 16 previously polio-free countries are currently suffering outbreaks following importations of the virus; in four of these, polio transmission has lasted more than a year.

The availability of bOPV is part of a range of new and area-specific tactics in 2009 to reach eradication more quickly. The swift production of the vaccine was the result of extraordinary collaboration between the World Health Organization, UNICEF, vaccine manufacturers and regulatory agencies.

The vaccination campaign in Afghanistan is financed by the Government of Canada, the second-highest per capita donor to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative with US$260 million in contributions. Canada, which assumes presidency of the G8 in 2010, first placed polio on the group's agenda when it last held the presidency in 2002. The G8 is the single-largest donor bloc to polio eradication.