Still, Polio is endemic in Afghanistan yet the news of attacks on the polio vaccinators are coming in from the war-torn state. Eight polio vaccination workers in four locations in northern Afghanistan were killed on February 24 during a polio vaccination campaign in Afghanistan. One member of the vaccination transit team was killed in the Taloqan district in Takhar province. In another incident, four health care workers were killed in Kunduz city. These four polio workers were running a door-to-door polio campaign. In a separate incident in the Imam Sahib district of Kunduz province, two vaccinators and other polio workers were killed. Very similar coordinated attacks took place last year as well.
The United Nations has condemned the recent attacks on health workers and extended condolences to the families, friends, and colleagues of the skilled health workers. The Taliban will be accountable for the killings of innocent health workers. Soon after retaining power last year, the Taliban promised that they would include female workers and ensure security to the aid workers. The polio drive is a result of high-level negotiation between the Taliban and UN officials.
Nationwide polio campaigns resumed in November last year. During national polio vaccination campaigns last year at least nine polio workers were killed.
About 23 million Afghans are in serious crisis and “emergency” levels of food insecurity by March 2022. Half of the children under five are facing acute malnutrition. Almost 10 million children under the age of five in Afghanistan, a third of whom have not had access to vaccines in recent years because of violence.
India has received immense appreciation for eliminating polio. India also inoculated the Afghan returnees in August.
Polio immunization is the only way to eradicate the disease from the subcontinent. Attacking the health workers, the Taliban has bedeviled themselves in the eyes of the global community. Polio has vanished from the world except for Afghanistan and Pakistan, because of the distrust of vaccines. Afghanistan is among the two states, where Poliovirus type 1 is still spreading and remains endemic. Besides hesitancy, a weak healthcare system, poor infrastructure, and political instability have immensely affected the vaccination drive in the war-torn state.
The lack of a massive vaccination drive may lead to an outbreak of polio cases across the state, already suffering from several deadly diseases. The Taliban and other Islamist leaders have misled the citizens about polio immunization. They have been telling that the polio vaccine is a Western conspiracy aimed at sterilizing Muslim children.
The health workers and aid agencies have been facing severe threats from Islamic extremist organizations. Even they claim the vaccinators are the spies or informers of the CIA. This is worth mentioning that the CIA used a vaccination drive in Pakistan in 2011 to confirm the location of Osama bin Laden.
Despite a proclaimed amnesty, Afghanistan has failed to save its citizens, health workers, former government officials, and other professionals from brutal attacks. Incidents of attack, harassment, arbitrary arrest, ill-treatment, and killings are being reported regularly. The humanitarian situation has worsened pathetically since the Taliban assumed power in August 2021. In a report, the UN said at least 100 former security forces and members of the previous Afghan government, as well as workers of international troops have been killed since the takeover of the Taliban. In a study, the UN has recently documented 44 cases of temporary arrests, beatings, and threats of intimidation in Afghanistan. The Taliban is seriously alleged in 42 cases out of those 44 cases. The brutal attack on the innocent health workers makes this clear that the Taliban has no control over what’s affecting the stability in the state. Those responsible for killing the health workers must be investigated and punished. Otherwise, the bodies like ISIS-KP will continue to flex their muscles. In order to gain credibility at the international level, the Taliban should ensure an effective and safe vaccination drive.