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August 30, 10

NEWS / UN experts conclude polio surveillance in assessed Afghan areas is effective

30 August 2010 – In an effort to assess the effectiveness of polio surveillance in Afghanistan, a group of experts from the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) have spent a week in villages across the country examining a system used to detect the paralysing disease in children under the age of 15.

The strategy identifies cases of acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) and then investigates them to determine, through laboratory testing, which AFP cases are as a result of the poliovirus and which ones are not.

“The first and most important step toward eliminating polio is to know where the polio virus is circulating,” said Peter Graaff, WHO Representative to Afghanistan.

“This is because low quality AFP surveillance can miss poliovirus transmission and we need to constantly monitor and improve the system, in order not to be misled about the level of progress made toward reaching the eradication goal,” Mr. Graaff said.

The main recommendations of the review mission included training more community health workers on AFP surveillance, scaling up participation of the private health sector, and improving the documentation of reported cases.

Based on the findings, the review team concluded that ongoing transmission of wild poliovirus in the “reviewed’ areas is very unlikely to be missed.

Due to security reasons, the southern and south-eastern regions of the country could not be accessed by the team.

Polio, also known as infantile paralysis, is a highly infectious and potentially lethal disease that spreads from person to person. Wild poliovirus could infect virtually everyone who is not yet immune through vaccination, and there is no cure.

Afghanistan is one of the four remaining countries in the world that has yet to become polio-free, the others being Pakistan, India and Nigeria. In 2010 alone, Afghanistan has had 13 polio cases, especially in parts of the southern region where access for health workers is not possible due to insecurity.

Currently, there is a network of more than 10,000 community members across the country that report children showing signs of potential paralysis to the next level of the health system. They include health workers, pharmacists, religious leaders and shrine keepers among others.

WHO, UNICEF and Rotary International are leading the efforts to eradicate polio in Afghanistan.


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