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Health

1.3 Million Afghan Children Are at Risk of Contracting Polio

ISLAMABAD — A new round of a polio immunization campaign went into action Monday in Afghanistan amid concerns insurgent bans could possibly deprive hundreds of thousands of children from receiving the vaccine.

During the five-day campaign, officials say, about 52,000 Afghan vaccinators will visit 6.4 million children under the age of five.

Take Action: Call on Canadian Ministers to Commit to Global Health Security

Afghan Minister of Public Health Ferozuddin Feroz has emphasized the neutrality of polio vaccination campaigns. In an official statement issued to mark the start of the current campaign, Feroz said that it is being conducted during the high transmission season for polio when children are most vulnerable to getting the virus.

“Our primary reports show, that in this round of the campaign, around 1,347,000 children could be deprived from polio vaccine in Helmand, Uruzgan, Kandahar, Nangarhar, Kunar, and Kunduz provinces, where the anti-government elements are not supporting the implementation of campaign,” the minister noted.

Taliban insurgents and Islamic State militants are active in Kunar and Nangarhar next to the border with Pakistan in the east. The Taliban controls or influences the rest of the provinces in the south and north, where the vulnerable Afghan child population is located.

Afghan health authorities have reported nine polio cases this year in the country, the highest number of wild polio cases in the world. The latest case, a 3-year-old child, surfaced last week in Nad-e-Ali district of southern Kandahar province.

Read More: Afghanistan Aims to Eradicate Polio Forever With Massive Vaccine Campaign​​​​​​​

Officials say the boy was among over 900,000 children in Kandahar, as well as surrounding Helmand and Uruzgan provinces, who could not vaccinated during the last campaigns in May due to insurgent bans on anti-polio efforts in Afghan territory under their control.

Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan are the only two remaining polio-endemic countries in the world. Pakistani officials have reported three cases this year.

Polio, a crippling and potentially fatal infectious disease, was also endemic in Nigeria until August 2016, but the country has not reported new cases since then.