Time for Afghanistan to Revitalize The NITAG!

The news about circulation of the new strain of Covid-19 virus has been surfing for some time now. Besides global surge in the number of cases, Afghanistan has also seen a rise in the number of Covid-19 cases in the past few days. Taking the low testing capacity into consideration, Afghanistan has consistently reported low number of Covid-19 infection cases since the pandemic started early in 2020. Recent estimates suggest that in total, there are 60,563 number of Covid-19 cases while an estimated 2,648 people have died as a result of the infection. While Afghanistan implemented several mitigation measures, the introduction of vaccine against the Covid-19 virus comes at the right time when the country is preparing to fight the new surge of the virus. Afghanistan, as reported was the first country in Central Asia to receive an estimated 468,000 doses of COVISHIELD vaccine from the Astra Zeneca Serum Institute of India in Mumbai. “It was delivered on 8th March 2021 via COVAX facility that is set to deliver 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of 2021”. Gratitude and thanks to the COVAX partners, and others for their indispensable and generous support to the Afghanistan government, particularly helping the Ministry of Public Health in fight against the pandemic.

How to move forward from here?

With the introduction of vaccine against the virus, there is global concern regarding equity issues in distribution of vaccine among population groups.  Besides cost and shortage of vaccine to developing nations, there is also concerns over introduction, management and distribution of the vaccine to the priority target groups. While countries opt for different strategies to overcome equity issues, the role of NITAGs cannot be undermined.

The National Immunization Technical Advisory Groups (NITAG) are multidisciplinary, independent technical advisory bodies, providing support to Ministries of Health in evidence based decision making and policy formulation on matters related to immunization programs. They also help Ministries of Health in introduction of new vaccines, setting population targets including presenting recommendations on equal distribution of vaccines to the eligible groups. In Afghanistan, NITAG was established, up and running until recent past. The institution was established in 2010 through a Ministerial decree, comprising members from the technical partners including UNICEF and WHO, public health experts, epidemiologists, representatives from education institutions, Ministry of Public Health officials and the national EPI program. Over the years, the institution made great stride in achieving its mission, contributing immensely in immunization related activities including introduction of vaccines. With the growing number of Covid-19 cases and in anticipation of receipt of additional supply of vaccines against the virus, Afghanistan needs to revitalize the NITAG not only to support equitable distribution of the vaccines, but also to support the Ministry of Public Health on all matters related to immunization program. (to be continued)

The views expressed in this article is that of the author and doesn’t represent any particularly institution or group. It is written solely to fulfil a professional commitment towards the health and wellbeing of women, children and marginalized population groups in Afghanistan.