A week-long measles vaccination campaign is underway in Afghanistan where the World Health Organization (WHO) says the extremely contagious viral disease has killed 142 children and infected 18,000 since the start of the year.
“This measles immunization campaign is part of the national response measure to stop the spread of the outbreak, save lives of the young children and reduce the burden on health systems,” a WHO statement quoted its representative in Afghanistan, Luo Dapeng, as saying on Monday.
The WHO-funded campaign, kicked off Saturday, is supporting the de facto Taliban health authorities in the management of the vaccination.
Thousands of health workers have been tasked to inoculate more than 1.2 million children under five against the disease across 49 Afghan districts in 24 provinces.
Afghanistan has experienced measles resurgence since January 2021. Authorities have since reported 48,366 infections and 250 deaths from the viral disease.
The low routine measles immunization coverage of 66% and longer interval since the measles follow-up campaign in 2018 have resulted in the accumulation of the high number of children under five years old with no measles immunization, said WHO.
Dapeng appealed to parents to bring their children in for vaccination against the life-threatening but preventable disease, urging everyone in the war-ravaged country to ensure the safety of Afghan health workers.
Last month, eight polio vaccinators, including four women, were shot dead during a door-to-door vaccination campaign against the crippling disease in two northern Afghan provinces.
“The rise in measles cases in Afghanistan is especially concerning because of the extremely high levels of malnutrition,” Dapeng said.
The health emergency comes as officials at the United Nations say decades of conflict, a devastating drought, a collapsing economy and the impact of international sanctions on Taliban rulers are causing “irreparable damage” to Afghan children.
The U.N. estimates that around 23 million people, more than half of Afghanistan’s population, need humanitarian assistance. It says one in three people faces acute hunger and two million children are malnourished.