In Afghanistan, polio vaccination faces threats

Afghanistan is one of three nations in the world (along with Pakistan and Nigeria) where the polio virus continues to be endemic, in part due to inadequate vaccination rates. A new poll of parents and caregivers of young children in Afghanistan by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and colleagues offers clues about why many children don’t receive the oral polio vaccine at all or miss some of the doses required for vaccine effectiveness.

The study was published online August 14, 2017 in The Lancet Infectious Diseases.

Since 2013 Harvard Chan’s Harvard Opinion Research Program (HORP) has worked together with UNICEF on a collaborative polling effort in seven polio-priority countries, including Afghanistan.

Working with UNICEF and the Ministry of Public Health in Kabul, Afghanistan, Gillian SteelFisher, senior research scientist and director of global polling for HORP and colleagues polled 1,980 caregivers of children age 5 and under between December 19, 2014 and January 5, 2015. The findings indicated caregivers who were not committed to vaccinating their children were less likely to trust those giving the vaccine, less likely to know how polio is transmitted, and more likely to believe that the vaccine is not halal (i.e., not consistent with Islam).

To increase support for the vaccine program, the researchers recommended building trust in vaccinators by selecting and training people from the local community to administer the vaccine rather using vaccinators from other towns. They also suggested stepping up education for caregivers on how polio spreads and countering false information with positive factual information that positions the vaccine within cultural norms and religious acceptance.

Other Harvard Chan authors include Robert Blendon, Richard L. Menschel Professor of Public Health, as well as William Lodge II and Hannah Caporello of HORP.

Listen to the Lancet Infectious Diseases podcast

Learn more

Polling on Polio Immunization
(HORP news)

Paving the way to the polio vaccine (Harvard Chan School Centennial news)