For the past three years, the Taliban have banned UN-organized vaccination teams from carrying out door-to-door campaigns in areas of Afghanistan under their control, apparently out of suspicion that they might be spies for the government or the West. Due to the ban and ongoing fighting, some 3.3 million children over the past three years have not been vaccinated.
The deal announced by the Taliban now, after taking over as rulers of Afghanistan, seemed aimed at showing that they are ready to cooperate with international agencies. The long-standing militant insurgency force is trying to gain global recognition for its new government and reopen the door to international aid to save the crumbling economy.
Taliban leaders did not confirm their agreement and Taliban officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
But the WHO and UNICEF, the United Nations children’s agency, said in a statement Monday that they welcomed the decision by the Taliban leaders to support the resumption of home polio vaccinations throughout. the country.
Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan are the only countries in the world where polio remains endemic. The disease can cause partial paralysis in children. Since 2010, the country has carried out regular vaccination campaigns during which workers go door to door to vaccinate children. Most of the workers are women, as they can have better access to mothers and children.
But large parts of the country have been beyond their reach in recent years. In parts of the south, in particular, the Taliban ban was in effect. In other areas, door-to-door campaigns were impossible because of fighting between the government and insurgents, or because of fears of kidnappings or bombings. In some places, die-hard clerics have spoken out against vaccinations, calling them un-Islamic or a Western conspiracy.
WHO said a new nationwide vaccination campaign will begin on November 8, followed by another synchronized with Pakistan’s polio vaccination campaign in December.
The estimated target population is the 10 million Afghan children under the age of 5, including more than 3.3 million who have not been reached since 2018, director Dr Hamid Jafari told The Associated Press. of polio eradication at WHO for the Eastern Mediterranean region.
“The resumption of polio vaccination in all parts of Afghanistan now will prevent a major resurgence of polio epidemics in the country and ensure there is no international spread,” Jafari said.
“This is an extremely important step in the right direction,” said Dapeng Luo, WHO representative in Afghanistan. He said it was a good sign that more campaigns are planned. “Sustainable access to all children is essential to end polio for good. “
On March 30, three women were shot dead in two separate attacks while performing home vaccinations in the eastern city of Jalalabad. It was the first time that vaccinators had been killed in a decade of door-to-door vaccinations against the disease in Afghanistan.
Such attacks are more common in Pakistan, where at least 70 vaccinators and security personnel linked to vaccination campaigns have been killed since 2011.
Afghanistan and Pakistan have seen an increase in cases. In Afghanistan, 56 new cases of polio were reported in 2020, the highest number since 2011, when 80 cases were recorded. Only one case of the wild virus was reported in 2021 in Afghanistan.
“This decision will allow us to take a giant leap in polio eradication efforts,” said Hervé Ludovic De Lys, UNICEF representative in Afghanistan. “To completely eradicate polio, every child in every Afghan household needs to be immunized, and together with our partners, this is what we are striving to do,” he said.
An additional dose of vitamin A will also be provided to children aged 6 to 59 months in the next campaign.
Jafari said the Taliban government had agreed on three key aspects: the safety of health workers and vaccinators, the mobilization of health authorities and the new leadership of the campaign, and communications through religious leaders, tribal and community organizations and the media to build confidence in the campaign.
He urged families not to be suspicious of vaccinators going house to house, saying the only intention is to protect children. “They should trust the program. They should trust the vaccine.