No new cases of wild poliovirus have been reported in southern Afghanistan in the last year, UNICEF said Tuesday, marking a crucial milestone in the country’s battle against the debilitating disease.
Afghanistan is one of the three remaining countries (along with Pakistan and Nigeria) where polio is still endemic. Of the 334 worldwide cases reported this year by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, only nine have been in Afghanistan’s Eastern Region along the Pakistani border. That figure is one-third the total from 2012.
But health officials are still concerned about the polio outbreak confirmed last month in Deir al-Zour, Syria, which had been declared polio-free in 1999, but where effects of the ongoing civil war have made it easier for the highly contagious virus to spread. In response, the United Nations announced its largest immunization response ever in the Middle East by targeting 20 million children in seven countries and territories.