Afghanistan's lack of routine immunizations increases childhood deaths

Afghanistan is attempting to increase its vaccination coverage after the deaths of 300 children were attributed to a lack of routine immunizations against measles.

Since the beginning of winter 2011, Afghanistan reported measles outbreaks in almost every one of its provinces. Nearly 9,000 cases have been reported, compared to 6,000 during the same period in 2010, according to IRINNews.org.

Aid workers described the situation as an emergency, saying that it has been exacerbated by increasing violence, decreased access, difficult terrain and a harsh climate, including a hard winter and a recent major drought.

"The main issue is access," Maria Luisa Galer, the coordinator of the international aid community's health cluster in Afghanistan, said, IRINNews.org reports. "We probably have to revise and adapt the strategy to this context."

Sayed Zubair Sadat, a representative for the Afghan Red Crescent Society, agreed with Galer's assessment.

"Day by day, the [security] situation becomes worse and our access to the people for providing health services becomes more limited," Sadat said, IRINNews.org reports. "We had problems conducting the [Expanded Program on Immunization] in the border areas and conflict provinces."

Experts estimate that nearly 30 percent of the Afghan population has no or poor access to primary care, including immunizations. In conflict areas in the south, up to 70 percent may lack coverage.