Stopping polio in Afghanistan is key to eradicating the disease worldwide. So I was grateful that Afghanistan officials came all the way to Abu Dhabi this week to meet with me in person. They briefed me on the steps they are taking to get the polio situation back on track. It was a very positive exchange.
After a large outbreak in 2011, officials overseeing Afghanistan’s polio program developed an emergency action plan. It includes increased oversight by political leaders, a range of innovative strategies, and stepped-up negotiations with all parties to ensure safe access to children for vaccination teams. Getting vaccinators into these conflict areas is critical to getting the job done.
Last month President Karzai approved the emergency action plan and designated one of his advisors to be the focal point for polio. While he was in New York for the UN General Assembly meetings, he publicly reaffirmed his commitment to doing everything possible to end polio in Afghanistan.
I am pleased to see that implementation of the emergency action plan has begun. It has the right ingredients and it was good to see that it also focuses on routine immunization—an important outcome of the work on polio.
Intensified oversight of the plan will be the key to success. Health officials have highlighted 13 high-risk districts that are critical to eliminating remaining polio reservoirs. Access and security are some of the challenges in those districts. I’m pleased to see that Afghanistan has created permanent vaccination teams to get around security obstacles. The challenge is how to “depoliticize” polio eradication and bring all parties to the table around this important initiative.
There’s still plenty of work to do to stop polio in Afghanistan. However, I’m confident that with President Karzai’s leadership and the creativity and energy of the team I got to meet, polio will be stopped forever. I look forward to celebrating a polio-free Afghanistan.