UN health agency launches major antimeasles drive to protect Afghan children

The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) today announced a major drive against measles in Afghanistan, where the relatively benign disease kills thousands of the country’s most vulnerable children.Over 100 health workers are in the midst of completing a major measles vaccination campaign in the Panjsher Valley just in time ensure no measles outbreaks during the critical winter months, WHO said. The eight-day campaign, supported by WHO, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Médecins Sans Frontières and Aide Médical International, will reach about 70,000 children with the measles vaccine.Measles is responsible for some 30,000 child deaths a year in Afghanistan. According to WHO, the disease weakens the immune system, so if children do not die of measles itself, they die from other diseases which attack them while their system is down. The measles vaccination campaign in the Panjsher valley is the beginning of a country-wide effort to improve routine immunization.Meanwhile, Un agencies continued relief efforts on the ground. The World Food Programme (WFP) today said it has been stepping up food deliveries into Afghanistan to provide some 1 million poor people living in central and northeast Afghanistan with enough food to sustain them through the winter months, when deliveries across the high mountain passes will be blocked by snow.”So far we have covered the needs of about 500,000 people who live in the Hazarajat area in the central highland and WFP continues to move food by trucks and planes to the western slopes of the Hindukush and to northeast Afghanistan to provide for the rest,” WFP spokesman Khaled Mansour told reporters in Islamabad.In a related development, a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said the prospects of a massive influx of Afghans into Pakistan “are receding with the ongoing peace settlement in Afghanistan.” While assisting those who have already entered Pakistan, UNHCR was planning “the voluntary return of Afghans, which is likely to start on a large scale in the spring,” said Fatoumata Kaba.

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