UNICEF/ HQ07-1076/Shehzad Noorani
AFGHANISTAN: A boy is vaccinated against polio with ‘monovalent oral polio vaccine type 1’ (mOPV1) outside Poli Clinic in the Herat Bazaar neighbourhood of the southern city of Kandahar. Standard OPV is trivalent, targeting all three types of poliovirus. Type 1 is, however, the most prevalent and virulent, and mOPV1 has proven more than twice as effective in stopping its spread. (Type 3 reproduces more slowly and is therefore easier to contain. Type 2 has been eradicated for almost a decade.) UNICEF and WHO have called on all warring factions in the region to cease fighting during the three-day polio immunization drive.
In June 2007 in Afghanistan, chronic insecurity and renewed violence, especially in rural areas, continue to impede recovery from decades of war, and limit progress for all the country’s 25 million people – particularly its children and women. The nation’s social indicators rank at or near the bottom among developing countries: average life expectancy is below 45 years; 40 to 60 percent of Afghan children are stunted or chronically malnourished; and the maternal mortality rate, at 1,600 per 100,000 live births, is one of the highest in the world. At least 50 women die every day from pregnancy-related complications and fewer than 2 per cent of women have ever attended a hospital or clinic. Despite the considerable success of the 2003 UNICEF-assisted back-to-school campaign, the enrolment of girls in rural areas is barely 30 per cent; the literacy rate for young women (aged 15-24) is only 18 per cent (versus 50 per cent for boys); while girls’ primary school completion rate is only 13 per cent (versus 32 per cent for boys). Factors preventing girls from attending school include accessibility and security, the need to work, poverty and child marriage, the latter accounting for 43 per cent of all marriages. The destruction or closure of schools for security reasons in several southern provinces further restricts girls’ access to an education. Additionally, 20 to 30 per cent of children must work to help support their families. Despite these challenges, the Government and its partners have put more than 4 million girls and boys back in school since 2005; some 64 per cent of children are fully immunized against the five major immuno-preventable childhood diseases; and Afghanistan – one of only four remaining polio endemic countries in the world – is on the verge of stopping wild poliovirus transmission within its territory. In other areas, UNICEF works to improve maternal health services; reduce under-five mortality; expand quality education, especially for girls and women; and ensure food security and equitable access to nutrition services.