Kabul records first polio case since fall of Taliban

Afghan ministry of public health announces three-day vaccination drive targeting all children under five in Kabul

A 3-year-old girl has been diagnosed with the first case of polio in the Afghan capital of Kabul since 2002, the Ministry of Public Health said yesterday.

The child, a member of the Kuchi nomadic tribe that travels freely across Afghanistan, was living in the Kasaba district of Kabul when she was diagnosed with the infectious disease. It marks the first case since the ouster of the Taliban more than a decade ago.

The ministry has responded with a three-day vaccination drive targeting all children under five in the area, in an effort to halt the spread of the virus.

“This case really underscores the ongoing risk polio continues to pose to children anywhere in the world,” Oliver Rosenbauer, a spokesperson for the World Health Organisation, told Philanthropy Age.

Polio attacks the central nervous system, leaving its victims at risk of paralysis or death. Sustained vaccination drives have all but eradicated the virus, though it remains endemic in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria.

The Afghan ministry said the girl’s family travelled regularly to Pakistan and that it was likely the girl had contracted the virus across the border. Pakistan recorded 93 cases of poliovirus in 2013, compared to 14 cases in Afghanistan.

Efforts to vaccinate against the disease have been hampered by the Pakistani Taliban, who claim immunisation campaigns are part of a plot to sterilise Muslims. More than 22 vaccination workers have been killed in the South Asian state over the past two years.

Health officials believe Afghanistan will remain infected with polio so long as Pakistan continues to harbour the disease.

“The Kabul case is linked to poliovirus in Pakistan, and so Afghanistan’s polio eradication efforts also depend on success in Pakistan,” said Rosenbauer.

The outbreak comes just weeks after India, Pakistan’s neighbour, marked three years since its last recorded case of polio. The milestone is seen as a major public health victory for the country, achieved through years of repeated immunisation drives. The WHO is expected to formally acknowledge India’s polio-free status in March.