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    Japan pledges $9.3m for anti-polio drives

    KABUL (PAN): Japan would provide the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) a grant of $9.3 million for polio vaccination in Afghanistan, the ministry said on Saturday.

    A contract to the effect was signed among Japanese Ambassador to Afghanistan Reiichiro Takahashi, United Nations Children's Fund country representative Peter Crowley and acting Public Health Minister Dr. Suraya Dalil in Kabul on Saturday.

    Fifty-six polio cases have been registered in Kandahar, Helmand and Farah provinces since March 22, 2011. Last year, the cases were 25, Dalil said after signing the contract.

    She linked the increasing number of polio cases to insecurity that hindered vaccination campaigns in several provinces. She cited the return of Afghan refugees from Pakistan as another reason. In Pakistan, the number of such cases stood at 110 in 2011 and 144 in 2010, she said.

    Dalil thanked Japan for the grant, saying implementation of vaccination drives would help lower the mortality rate among children besides boost their immune system.

    Takahashi said it was Japan's priority to deal with the disease in Afghanistan, pledging continued assistance in this regard.

    The Japan International Cooperation Agency's (JICA) country director, Yoshikazu Yamada, said they had assisted Afghanistan with $50 million for implementing vaccination campaigns since the beginning of 2011.

    Japan has been assisting Afghanistan in constructing clinics, providing medicine and medical equipments, he added. Tokyo would provide more than $34 million to the Ministry of Public Health for constructing a building for an infectious diseases hospital in Kabul, he promised.

    "It is remarkable to note the continued support of the government of Japan, particularly in the wake of major challenges at home following the devastating Tsunami and earthquake earlier this year," Dalil remarked.

    Receiving the grant on behalf of a joint UNICEF-WHO polio team, Crowley said the funds would be used to accelerate routine immunisations in communities with low healthcare coverage, including areas where the virus remained endemic.

    myn/ma/mud



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