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An Afghan health worker administers the polio vaccine to a child in Kandahar
Millions of children are still unvaccinated against polioImage: Javed Tanveer/AFP/Getty Images
HealthAfghanistan

Afghanistan begins polio vaccination campaign

November 8, 2021

The drive is the first to take place against the disease in three years. The Taliban had banned previous campaigns, leaving millions of children unvaccinated.

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The World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations children's agency began a polio vaccination campaign aimed at children under the age of 5 in Afghanistan on Monday.

The campaign is the first to take place against the disease in three years.

Before taking control of Afghanistan, the Taliban had barred UN-organized vaccination teams from conducting door-to-door campaigns in parts of the country under their control.

Where are the vaccinations taking place?

Door-to-door vaccinations have started in 15 of the country's 34 provinces. The Taliban said the others were deemed unsafe.

Health Ministry official Nek Wali Shah Momin said there was a shortage of trained staff for teams in remote areas.

Large sections of the country have been out of reach for vaccinations campagins in recent years. In parts of the south, particularly, the ban by the Taliban 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 roadside bombs.

"The urgency with which the Taliban leadership wants the polio campaign to proceed demonstrates a joint commitment to maintain the health system and restart essential immunizations to avert further outbreaks of preventable diseases," said Ahmed Al Mandhari, WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean, in a statement.

Polio victim becomes health worker to fight epidemic

Why had the Taliban banned polio vaccinations?

The Taliban had been suspicious that health workers could be spies for the previous government or the West. Because of the ban and ongoing fighting, around 3.3 million children have not been vaccinated over the past three years. Afghanistan has an estimated 10 million children under the age of 5.

"Without any doubt polio is a disease that without treatment will either kill our children or cause them with permanent disability, so in this case the only way is to implement the vaccination,'' said Dr. Qalandar Ebad, the Taliban's acting public health minister.

Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan are the only countries in the world where polio remains endemic. The disease can cause partial paralysis in children.

lc/rt (Reuters, AP)

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