Taliban administration in Afghanistan has launched the annual polio inoculation campaign aimed at reaching more than nine million children under the age of five.
Afghanistan and Pakistan are the last countries with endemic polio, an incurable and highly infectious disease that can cause crippling paralysis and even death in young children.
Director of Afghanistan’s National Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) for Polio Eradication, Nek Momin stated that “many more areas could now be reached since the Taliban took over Kabul in August 2021 and the fighting stopped”.
The EOC is led by the health ministry and includes international agencies including the World Health Organization and the United Nations’ children’s agency.
“The campaign that started on Monday will cover 31 countries, 34 provinces. The vaccination was postponed in the remaining three provinces due to extremely cold weather” health ministry spokesman Sharafat Zaman said.
“Fortunately, we do not have any positive cases this year,” the spokesman added.
Last year, two cases of the wild type of poliovirus were detected in Afghanistan.
While the Taliban has in recent months banned many female NGO workers and stopped women from attending universities and most high schools, EOC director Momin said “female vaccinators were working on the campaign because women were crucial to accessing children who were often at home with their female caregivers and usually not comfortable interacting with male vaccinators.
In areas where vaccination teams had to travel longer distances, Momin stated that authorities had required female staff to have a male chaperone. He said they had recruited and trained male family members of the female vaccinators to join the teams’ vaccination efforts.
Some armed factions have targeted vaccination efforts in the past. In 2022, eight workers were killed in attacks in northern Afghanistan.
“The support of all Afghans, including parents, community leaders, ethnic elders, and religious leaders is critical to eradicating polio and we want them to take part in the fight,” the Taliban’s acting health minister Qalandar Ebad said.