The fourth round of the national polio immunization campaign in Afghanistan is scheduled to start Monday and will be synchronized with Pakistan to improve cross-border polio eradication efforts.
According to a statement issued by UNICEF, the campaign will run until Thursday and aims to reach 9.9 million children aged 0-59 months across the country.
In the South and East regions, and provinces of Paktia and Ghazni in the South East, Ghor in the West, and Balkh in the North, the campaign will run a week later, from 20 to 23 December.
This is the second campaign to reach children in areas previously inaccessible by the polio program.
The November 2021 campaign delivered polio vaccinations to 8.5 million children under the age of five, including 2.4 million children who were vaccinated for the first time in over three years, UNICEF said.
“We are intensifying efforts to reach the maximum number of children across the country, but we need sustained access to rapidly build immunity against polio, especially in areas we have not been able to reach in the last few years,” said Dr Dapeng Luo, WHO Representative in Afghanistan.
“The November campaign was a massive leap forward and the upcoming campaign will further strengthen the progress we are making. Six more campaigns are planned for 2022 and we must ensure they are implemented timely and reach all children,” he said.
Four wild poliovirus type 1 cases have been reported in the country so far. The first WPV1 case of 2021 was reported in January 2021 from Ghazni province in the Southeast region, while the other three cases were reported in October and November from Kunduz province.
Polio vaccine campaign to be rolled out in western provinces
More than one million children are expected to receive polio vaccinations in the fourth round of the current campaign which is set to start on Monday in the western provinces of Afghanistan.
According to public health ministry officials, vaccination teams will go from house-to-house and vaccinate children under the age of five.
“Necessary preparations have been made in Herat and the western area for the implementation of the polio campaign and the necessary training has been given to the employees; approximately 5,000 employees [are involved] in the implementation, monitoring and care of the polio campaign,” said Mohammad Asif Kabir, Herat Deputy Minister of Public Health.
“Our goal in Herat province is [to reach] 710,000 children under the age of five, for whom we have to apply the vaccine, which fortunately we achieved in the previous campaign, and we hope to achieve this in this period as well,” said Abdul Wahid Rahmani, head of the vaccination program in Herat.
The Herat Department of Public Health says that in this province alone, 710,000 children are to be vaccinated against polio, while in Badghis, about 180,000 children will be vaccinated.
“In this round, the campaign targets 180,489 children, and we try not to leave any children out in this campaign,” said Mohammad Asif Qant, Badghis Public Health Director.
Thousands of children will also be reached in Ghor province.
“The campaign will be carried out to all parts of Ghor and from house-to-house, and fortunately there are no obstacles in our way,” said Fazulhaq Farjad, head of the polio vaccine program in Ghor.
WHO calls emergency meeting as monkeypox cases top 100 in Europe
The World Health Organization was holding an emergency meeting on Friday to discuss the recent outbreak of monkeypox, a viral infection more common to west and central Africa, after over 100 cases were confirmed or suspected in Europe.
In what Germany described as the largest outbreak in Europe ever, cases have been reported in at least nine countries – Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom – as well as the United States, Canada and Australia.
Spain reported 24 new cases on Friday, mainly in the Madrid region where the regional government closed a sauna linked to the majority of infections.
A hospital in Israel was treating a man in his 30s who is displaying symptoms consistent with the disease after recently arriving from Western Europe.
First identified in monkeys, the disease typically spreads through close contact and has rarely spread outside Africa, so this series of cases has triggered concern.
However, scientists do not expect the outbreak to evolve into a pandemic like COVID-19, given the virus does not spread as easily as SARS-COV-2.
Monkeypox is usually a mild viral illness, characterised by symptoms of fever as well as a distinctive bumpy rash.
“This is the largest and most widespread outbreak of monkeypox ever seen in Europe,” said Germany’s armed forces’ medical service, which detected its first case in the country on Friday.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) committee meeting to discuss the issue is the Strategic and Technical Advisory Group on Infectious Hazards with Pandemic and Epidemic Potential (STAG-IH), which advises on infection risks that could pose a global health threat.
It would not be responsible for deciding whether the outbreak should be declared a public health emergency of international concern, WHO’s highest form of alert, which is currently applied to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There appears to be a low risk to the general public at this time,” a senior U.S. administration official said.
Fabian Leendertz, from the Robert Koch Institute, described the outbreak as an epidemic.
“However, it is very unlikely that this epidemic will last long. The cases can be well isolated via contact tracing and there are also drugs and effective vaccines that can be used if necessary,” he said.
Still, the WHO’s European chief said he was concerned that infections could accelerate in the region as people gather for parties and festivals over the summer months.
There is no specific vaccine for monkeypox, but data shows that the vaccines used to eradicate smallpox are up to 85% effective against monkeypox, according to the WHO.
British authorities said they have offered a smallpox vaccine to some healthcare workers and others who may have been exposed to monkeypox.
Since 1970, monkeypox cases have been reported in 11 African countries. Nigeria has had a large ongoing outbreak since 2017. So far this year, there have been 46 suspected cases, of which 15 have since been confirmed, according to the WHO.
The first European case was confirmed on May 7 in an individual who returned to England from Nigeria.
Since then, over 100 cases have been confirmed outside Africa, according to a tracker by a University of Oxford academic.
Many of the cases are not linked to travel to the continent. As a result, the cause of this outbreak is unclear, although health authorities have said that there is potentially some degree of community spread.
SEXUAL HEALTH CLINICS
The WHO said the early cases were unusual for three reasons: All but one have no relevant travel history to areas where monkeypox is endemic; most are being detected through sexual health services and among men who have sex with men, and the wide geographic spread across Europe and beyond suggests that transmission may have been going on for some time.
In Britain, where 20 cases have been now confirmed, the UK Health Security Agency said the recent cases in the country were predominantly among men who self-identified as gay, bisexual or men who have sex with men.
Portugal detected nine more cases on Friday, taking its total to 23.
The previous tally of 14 cases were all detected in sexual health clinics and were men aged between 20 and 40 years old who self-identified as gay, bisexual or men who have sex with men.
It was too early to say if the illness has morphed into a sexually transmitted disease, said Alessio D’Amato, health commissioner of the Lazio region in Italy. Three cases have been reported so far in the country.
“The idea that there’s some sort of sexual transmission in this, I think, is a little bit of a stretch,” said Stuart Neil, professor of virology at Kings College London.
Scientists are sequencing the virus from different cases to see if they are linked, the WHO has said. The agency is expected to provide an update soon.
Massachusetts identifies first 2022 U.S. case of monkeypox infection
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health on Wednesday said it had confirmed a single case of monkeypox virus infection in a man who had recently traveled to Canada.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)said its labs confirmed the infection to be monkeypox on Wednesday afternoon.
The state agency said it was working with CDC and relevant local boards of health to carry out contact tracing, adding that “the case poses no risk to the public, and the individual is hospitalized and in good condition.”
The Public Health Agency of Canada late on Wednesday issued a statement saying it is aware of the monkeypox cases in Europe and is closely monitoring the current situation, adding no cases have been reported at this time.
Monkeypox, which mostly occurs in west and central Africa, is a rare viral infection similar to human smallpox, though milder. It was first recorded in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the 1970s. The number of cases in West Africa has increased in the last decade.
Symptoms include fever, headaches and skin rashes starting on the face and spreading to the rest of the body.
The Massachusetts agency said the virus does not spread easily between people, but transmission can occur through contact with body fluids, monkeypox sores, items such as bedding or clothing that have been contaminated with fluids or sores, or through respiratory droplets following prolonged face-to-face contact.
It said no monkeypox cases had previously been identified in the United States this year. Texas and Maryland each reported a case in 2021 in people with recent travel to Nigeria.
The CDC also said it is tracking multiple clusters of monkeypox reported in several countries including Portugal, Spain, and the United Kingdom, within the past two weeks.
A handful of cases of monkeypox have recently been reported or are suspected in the United Kingdom, Portugal and Spain.
Earlier on Wednesday, Portuguese authorities said they had identified five cases of the infection and Spain’s health services said they were testing 23 potential cases after Britain put Europe on alert for the virus.
European health authorities are monitoring any outbreak of the disease since Britain reported its first case on May 7 and has found six more in the country since then.
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