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Team Helps to Fight Polio in Konar Province

By Navy Lt. j.g. James Dietle
Special to American Forces Press Service

KONAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan, Jan. 27, 2009 – An extensive vaccination drive targeting polio started earlier this month thanks to the efforts of the provincial reconstruction team in Afghanistan’s Konar province and government officials from the province.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Gov. Sayeed Wahidi of Afghanistan’s Konar province administers the oral polio vaccine to an Afghan girl, Jan. 11, 2009. U.S. Navy photo by Lt. j.g. James Dietle

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Though polio vaccinations are common and successful in established nations, Konar’s developing health services, road quality and regional conflicts have created challenges for administering the vaccine, officials said.

"The PRT has used over $71 million from the Commanders’ Emergency Response Program to build and enhance roads and bridges, which is one of the first means to getting better quality health care to the people of Afghanistan,” Army Capt. George Hupp, PRT civil affairs officer, said.

“These vaccinations will prohibit the people from several diseases that can be life threatening,” he continued. “Not only have we worked on this with roads, but we have also contributed money to attaining medical ambulances for servicing the people on a more routine basis.”

Ambulances are limited by the primitive road infrastructure, Konar Gov. Sayeed Wahidi said. Modern health care professionals also are difficult to train and educate in this area. These factors have slowed the implementation of vaccination programs, until now.

Wahidi and his volunteers are aiming to distribute the vaccine to the most secluded areas in the province with plans to contract pack animals to reach remote areas.

“Where we cannot go, we will take animals and walk,” Wahidi said.

“The vaccine should reach over 130,000 children across the province,” Dr. Sayed Ameem Fatimi, Konar’s public health minister, said during a vaccination program kickoff earlier in the month.

Local officials hope this will be enough to vaccinate every child under 5 years old across the region in two months.

“This will only be the beginning, as I plan to get children and adults more vaccinations for more diseases such as hepatitis and tuberculosis,” Fatimi said.

(Navy Lt. j.g. James Dietle serves in the 1st Infantry Division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team public affairs office.)

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