Afghanistan begins polio immunization campaign under Taliban

Kabul, Nov 8 (EFE).- Afghanistan on Monday began a nationwide polio vaccination campaign for the first time in more than three years with the backing of the Taliban and amid concerns for the safety of health workers due to frequent attacks against them.

“The polio vaccine will be given to at least ten million children aged under five years,” Gula Khan Ayube, head of the polio vaccination program, told EFE.

The campaign aims to reach all children in Afghanistan, including some 3.3 million living in remote areas where the vaccination program has never reached, according to Unicef and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Before the Taliban took control of Kabul on Aug. 15, polio immunization campaigns had been restricted due to the conflict in the country and opposition by fundamentalists to door-to-door vaccination in the territories under their control.

The four-day program launched on Monday is the first under the interim government of the Taliban, who have pledged their support to UN agencies.

The ministry of public health “promised to have close coordination and cooperation with the polio program staff in order to cover children of all areas” of the country, ministry spokesperson Tawheed Shokohmand told EFE.

Afghanistan recorded more than 350 cases of polio in 2020, mostly of the type-2 variant, the largest increase in a decade.

But according to WHO and Unicef data, the country has only registered one case of wild polio so far this year, opening the door to the elimination of the virus.

Afghanistan and Pakistan are currently the only two countries where the polio virus is still in transmission, with dozens of positive cases reported annually among children under the age of five.

According to UN agencies, one of the main concerns during the campaign is the safety and security of health workers, who are often the target of attacks.

In June, during the national immunization campaign against the virus launched by the government ousted by the Taliban, five polio health workers were killed and four others injured in attacks in Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan.

Two similar attacks took place in the city of Jalalabad, capital of Nangarhar on Mar. 30, in which three polio vaccinators were killed. EFE


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