ISLAMABAD (NWN) — The Taliban-run Afghan public health ministry on Sunday announced the launch of a four-day nationwide polio vaccination campaign aimed at vaccinating children under five.
For the past three years before taking control of Afghanistan, the Taliban had prevented UN-organized vaccination teams from conducting door-to-door operations in parts of the country under their control. The group apparently suspected that the team members could be spies from the previous government or the West.
Due to the ban and the ongoing fight, about 3.3 million children have not been vaccinated in the past three years.
Dr. Qalandar Ebad, the Taliban’s acting Minister of Public Health, said, “Polio is without a doubt a disease that without treatment will either kill or permanently disable our children, so vaccination in this case is not recommended.” The only way to enforce it.”
Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan are the only countries in the world where polio is endemic and the disease can cause partial paralysis in children. Since 2010, the country has been running regular vaccination campaigns in which activists go door-to-door to vaccinate children. Most workers are women, as they may 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 of Afghanistan is 10 million children under the age of 5, including more than 3.3 million children who have not been reached since 2018.
“Vaccination of children below five years of age in the country during National Immunization Day is a mammoth task. It is not possible for the Ministry of Public Health alone to successfully accomplish this task, so we need the support of all departments,” said Nek Wali Shah Momin, an official in the Ministry of Health in the Department of Polio Eradication.
The alleged support of the campaign by the Taliban appeared to be aimed at showing the international community that they were willing to cooperate with international agencies. The long-standing militant rebel force has been trying to win world recognition of its new government and open the door to international aid to save a crumbling economy.
The World Health Organization and UN children’s agency UNICEF said in a joint statement last month that they welcomed the Taliban leadership’s decision to support the resumption of door-to-door polio vaccination across the country.
In recent years large parts of the country have been out of reach of vaccination. In parts of the south, in particular, the ban by the Taliban was in effect. In other areas, house-to-house operations were impossible due to fighting between the government and rebels, or fears of kidnappings or roadside bombs. In some places, fanatical clerics spoke out against vaccination, calling them un-Islamic or claiming they were part of a Western conspiracy.