Nationwide polio eradication campaign starts in Afghanistan

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Because of the ban and ongoing fighting, around 3.3 million children have not been vaccinated in the past three years.

“Without a doubt, polio is a disease that, if left untreated, will either kill our children or make them permanently disabled. In this case, the only way to do this is to get the vaccination,” said Dr. Qalandar Ebad, the incumbent health minister of the Taliban.

Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan are the only countries in the world where polio remains endemic and where the disease can cause partial paralysis in children. Since 2010, the country has been running regular vaccination campaigns with workers going from house to house distributing the vaccine to children. Most of the workers are women because they have better access to mothers and children.

The four-day campaign will begin on Monday and will take place across the country, Ebad said. The estimated target population is the 10 million children under 5 in Afghanistan, including the more than 3.3 million who have not been reached since 2018.

“Vaccinating (children) under five in the country during the national vaccination days is a gigantic task. The Ministry of Health alone cannot do this successfully, so we need the support of all departments, “said Nek Wali Shah Momin, a health ministry official in the Polio Eradication Department.

The Taliban’s reported support for the campaign appeared to be aimed at showing the international community that it was ready to work with international organizations. The longtime militant insurgent force has tried to gain global recognition for its new government and reopen the door for international aid to rescue the crumbling economy.

The World Health Organization and the UN Children’s Fund UNICEF in a joint statement last month welcomed the decision of the Taliban leadership to support the resumption of polio vaccinations from house to house across the country.

Large parts of the country have been inaccessible for vaccinations in recent years. The Taliban was particularly banned in parts of the south. In other areas, door-to-door campaigns have been impossible because of government-insurgent fighting or fear of kidnappings or roadside bombs. In some places, hardliners spoke out against vaccinations, called them un-Islamic, or claimed they were part of a Western conspiracy.

(Copyright 2021 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)