One full year without polio in Afghanistan's southern region

Afghanistan's southern region reached one full year without any reported cases of wild poliovirus for the first time, UNICEF announced on Tuesday.

The southern region of Afghanistan was previously labelled as one of the most persistent reservoirs of poliovirus globally. UNICEF said the progress in the region is a sign of the effectiveness of the polio eradication strategies and their local implementation. The milestone could serve as encouragement for the polio effort in the country's eastern region, which continues to battle a polio outbreak.

"Passing one year without any reported cases of wild poliovirus in the southern region is an encouraging milestone and a great credit to the frontline health workers," Suraya Dalil, the minister of public health in Afghanistan, said. "I urge those workers to now redouble their efforts over the next few months of the low transmission season when transmission of the virus is traditionally slower. This offers a very real opportunity to stop transmission of the virus entirely across the country."

UNICEF said many areas of Afghanistan have low levels of routine immunization coverage and it is very important that all parties redouble their efforts to build the immunity of children throughout the country with the polio vaccine.

"This is a timely reminder that the strategies and the tools we are using do work and that we can eradicate polio once and for all," Vidhya Ganesh, the Afghanistan representative for UNICEF, said. "Central to this is a strong partnership for polio that is led by the government with a high level of community ownership. We all now need to work harder than ever to build the immunity of children across the country through oral polio vaccine but also to prevent the spread of the disease through healthier practices, including exclusive breastfeeding and better hygiene and sanitation."

There were 37 polio cases in Afghanistan last year, with the number dropping to nine in 2013.