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Polio vaccinators gunned down in Afghanistan

June 15, 2021

Gunmen shot dead five vaccinators in eastern Afghanistan in what officials claim was a pre-planned attack. The country struggles with polio as many refuse to be vaccinated.

Health workers go door to door during a polio vaccination campaign in the old part of Kabul, Afghanistan
The Afghan government plans to inoculate 9,6 million children against polio with the help of UNICEFImage: Rahmat Gul/AP Photo/picture alliance

The Taliban have denied attacking five health workers who were gunned down at three separate locations on Tuesday. Four other workers were also wounded, with two of them in critical condition.

But police spokesman Farid Khan said the Taliban were ‘'targeting health workers to deprive people of polio vaccines."

The attack has now halted the inoculation drive in the city of Jalalabad and the nearby districts of Khoyani and Surkhrud in the eastern Nangarhar province.

Taliban spread conspiracies about vaccines

Spokesman for the Nangarhar governor, Attaullah Khogyani, called the attacks cowardly. 

Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistanare the only two remaining countries in the world battling polio. Last year, Nigeria declared itself free of the virus.

There is massive distrust of vaccines in Afghanistan which is spread by the Taliban and religious leaders inciting fear that vaccines are a Western conspiracy aimed at sterilizing Muslim children. They also claim that inoculation drives are used to spy on militant activities.

Rumors hamper anti-polio efforts in Afghanistan

The Taliban have gone as far as banning door-to-door vaccination campaigns in areas they control.

COVID-19 overwhelms Afghan health officials

The war-ravaged country is currently experiencing a third wave of coronavirus infections which has overwhelmed their health care system.

Afghanistan has recorded over 93,000 cases since the pandemic started, with over 3,600 new cases reported in the past 24 hours. But many cases still go unreported as the country struggles with testing.

In recent months, the Afghan government has sought to inoculate 9.6 million children against polio with the help of UNICEF. The country last year reported 54 new polio cases.

Polio victim becomes health worker to fight epidemic

Vaccination campaign used to hunt down Bin Laden

The Taliban and other militant groups also frequently attack polio vaccination teams in the neighboring Pakistan. These attacks usually target health workers and security officers escorting them, as well as vaccination centers.

Just last week, two policemen were shot and killed in northwest Pakistan while guarding a team issuing polio vaccinations.

Attacks on medical professionals escalated in recent years, after it emerged in 2011 that the CIA had used a fake hepatitis vaccination campaign to hunt for al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden was killed by United States commandos later in 2011 in Pakistan.

on/dj (AFP, AP)