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Wall Street Journal Examines Polio Vaccinations In Afghanistan

In a story about polio vaccination campaigns in Afghanistan, the Wall Street Journal examines how the Taliban and international health agencies are working together to promote oral vaccination campaigns across the country. Vaccination campaign volunteers usually bring a “single-page letter requesting people to cooperate, ‘for the benefit of our next generations.’ The letter’s signatory: Mullah Mohammad Omar, the one-eyed supreme leader of the Taliban,” according to the Wall Street Journal. Tahir Mir, head of the WHO’s polio-eradication program in Afghanistan, said the letter became necessary after polio teams had difficulty gaining access to Taliban-controlled districts.

“The antipolio campaign brings together the Taliban, President Hamid Karzai’s central government, UNICEF and the World Health Organization in an uneasy but functioning partnership – one that recognizes the reality of the insurgents’ stranglehold over large chunks of the country,” the newspaper writes. “Since Mullah Omar’s first letter was issued, in August 2007, vaccinators gained entry to dozens of previously out-of-bounds villages, WHO officials say. More importantly, the Taliban endorsement allowed many vaccination teams that considered pulling out because of safety concerns to continue operating in other districts, even as fighting intensified,” the Walls Street Journal writes.

According to the newspaper, the WHO and UNICEF don’t deal with Taliban leaders directly because U.N. agencies have been barred from contacting them since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. “Instead, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the only international organization that maintains regular communications with the Taliban command, acts as an intermediary every time a new letter of support is issued. That happened 10 times in 2009, each time a new vaccination campaign was launched.”

The newspaper also notes that although “health officials across southern and eastern Afghanistan agree that the Taliban letter is undoubtedly helpful, it isn’t always foolproof.” The article outlines some of the challenges to successful vaccination campaigns and includes specifics about the vaccination programs in the country (Trofimov, 11/9). The newspaper also published a series of photographs related to the story (11/8).   

India Launches Polio Vaccination Campaign; Introduces Bivalent Oral Vaccine

India on Sunday launched a new polio vaccination campaign and introduced a bivalent vaccine to protect children against Type 1 and Type 3 strains, the Financial Express reports. Ghulam Nabi Azad, the minister of health and family welfare, said the bivalent vaccine would be introduced in Bihar and that it would also be used in Uttar Pradesh. About 170 million children are expected to be immunized during this campaign (1/11).

Also on Sunday, the Dalai Lama administered a few drops of the new vaccine to children in Bihar to launch the campaign, Press Trust of India reports (1/10). Reuters has some video footage of the campaign kick off (1/10).

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