Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Afghanistan: Vaccination Boost for Kandahar

New initiative aims to reduce mortality rates in remote parts of the province.
By Mohammad Ibrahim Spesalai






A public health drive is under way in Kandahar province in southern Afghanistan to ensure children are vaccinated against polio and deliver maternity and.

Three cases of polio were recently recorded in the province. Health officials said one of them originated in Karachi in Pakistan, while the others were traced to Afghanistan’s Uruzgan and Helmand provinces.

Abdul Qayum Pokhla, head of public health in Kandahar, said his department had found a new and effective method for getting vaccination teams out and about.

“We have bought 40 motorcycles with the help of the health ministry so that vaccinators will get to remote areas of the districts quickly and vaccinate children in time,” he said, calling for tribal elders and Muslim scholars to cooperate with the teams’ efforts to save lives.

Women living in remote districts of Kandahar have welcomed the initiative, as it is often hard for them to travel the long distances necessary to get medical attention. Conservative social traditions also inhibit women’s freedom of movement.

Those working on the initiative say it used to be very difficult to reach isolated villages by bicycle or on foot.

“Now, we can get to remote areas fast and vaccinate people,” said one vaccinator.

Two of Kandahar’s districts, Regestan and Shorabak, have no medical centres at all.

Dr Ahmadullah Faizi, deputy director of Kandahar’s health department, said his staff had repeatedly tried to set up clinics for these districts, without success. A major problem was hostility on the part of the Taleban, who tried to stop vaccination campaigns in areas under their control.

“We estimate that nearly 30,000 people do not have access to health facilities in these two districts,” he said. “Security and main roads are poor in both districts, and this has frustrated our efforts.”

Local residents say they have petitioned government officials numerous times to address the lack of healthcare.

“We have problems because of our remote location and the absence of medical centres,” said one resident. “Several women have died in childbirth.”

Faizi said that nearly 7,000 births had been recorded in the past three months across the province, with the exception of Shorabak and Regestan where no records were collected. The data showed that over this period, nine mothers died in childbirth for want of timely medical assistance.

According to Afghanistan’s health ministry, one in ten children across the country dies before the age of five, and a mother dies in childbirth every two hours.

Golmakai, who lives in Kandahar’s Panjwai district, said that she had seen many deaths caused by lack of access to healthcare.

“If vaccinators come to my village, I won’t have to go to Kandahar city or the district centre,” she added.

Mohammad Ibrahim Spesalai is an IWPR-trained journalist in Kandahar, Afghanistan.