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Estonia to Help Protect Afghan Children Against Polio


No 219-E

The Foreign Ministry is supporting UNICEF’s activities geared towards combating polio in Afghanistan.

Foreign Minister Urmas Paet stated that Afghanistan is a partner of Estonia’s development co-operation, and one of the essential sectors that Estonia is helping to develop there is the health care sector. “Estonia supported UNICEF’s anti-polio campaign in Helmand Province, Afghanistan last year as well, and this year we decided to continue supporting UNICEF’s work,” he said.

The foreign minister noted that thanks to the support of Estonia and other international donors, the percentage of children vaccinated against polio in Helmand Province rose to 83% in April 2013. In September of 2012 it was still 71%. “UNICEF believes that it would be possible to completely eliminate polio in Afghanistan during the next two years, if support from foreign donors continues on at least the same level. Therefore we definitely wish to continue supporting this programme in 2013,” Paet confirmed.

The foreign minister also noted that there is still much to do in the health care sector in Helmand and in Afghanistan in general, and therefore we will continue helping to develop this sector in order to improve Afghans’ quality of life. “Afghanistan will remain an important partner for Estonia’s development co-operation after 2014, when Estonian soldiers have returned from the Afghanistan mission,” Paet emphasised.

Afghanistan is one of the three countries in the world, in addition to Pakistan and Nigeria, where polio remains endemic. The situation is especially complicated in the provinces of Helmand, Kandahar, and Uruzgan. One obstacle in the fight against polio is peoples’ low awareness of the disease. For example, only half of Afghan families had heard of polio prior to vaccines being delivered. The vaccination process is hindered due to communication problems stemming from cultural factors. Often women do not open the door for people coming around with vaccines and instead the door is opened by the older children of the family, who do not always understand the importance of the vaccine. Therefore the children in some families remain unvaccinated.

The goal of UNICEF’s project is to increase awareness of polio in Afghanistan, train people connected to the vaccination process, and increase vaccination capabilities. The desired result for these activities is to reduce the number of unvaccinated children in nine regions of Helmand Province − Bust, Nad-e-Ali/Marjah, Nowzad, Nahrisiraj, Musa Qala, Sangin, Nawa, Kajjaki and Washer − by at least 50%.

The Foreign Ministry is supporting the UNICEF project with 20 000 euros allocated from the budget for development and humanitarian aid. 

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