Taliban agree to new polio vaccination across Afghanistan
In an effort to eradicate polio and boost health measures for children in Afghanistan, the Taliban government has agreed to restart a door-to-door vaccination program next month, and will allow women to be frontline workers in the drive, health officials announced on Tuesday.
The announcement, by the WHO and Unicef, is a breakthrough in a country that has been called the “world’s polio capital”, a place where vaccinators have faced the twin challenges of a lack of access to patients and deadly violence.
The five-day nationwide program to distribute the polio vaccine, which is given orally and in multiple doses, will begin November 8, according to officials. The drive aims to reach about 10 million children, according to Dr Hamid Jafari, head of polio eradication for the WHO’s eastern Mediterranean region.
More than 3.3 million children had previously “remained inaccessible to vaccination campaigns”, according to the statement announcing the drive. Children who are 6 months to 59 months old will also be given vitamin A supplements during the campaign, officials said.
Word of the agreement comes as the Taliban have been showing some limited flexibility in dealings with the outside world as the government seeks desperately needed aid amid an ailing economy and increasing food scarcity.
In addition to this polio vaccination programme, “all parties have agreed on the need to immediately start measles and Covid-19 vaccination campaigns”, the statement from the groups said.
And a second polio vaccination programme in Afghanistan will be synchronized with one in neighbouring Pakistan that is scheduled to begin in December, it said.
Half a dozen more vaccination programmes are scheduled to begin next year, according to Dr Jafari.
In announcing the vaccination programme, health officials said the Taliban “expressed their commitment” to allow women to be frontline workers in the drive and “for providing security and assuring the safety of all health workers across the country”.
Dr Jafari said that tens of thousands of women were expected to work in the vaccination effort, as vaccinators, supervisors and managers.
The announcement comes months after several women working as polio vaccinators were killed, stifling efforts to inoculate children against the disease. In March, three women working for the government’s polio vaccine campaign were shot dead in Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan, local officials said.
“Unicef is outraged by this attack,” the organisation said at the time. “Frontline health workers should never be a target of violence.”
Around the same time of the shootings, there was an explosion at the city’s regional hospital, near the compound where the vaccines are stored. No group took credit for those attacks. But the Taliban have in the past expressed scepticism of vaccination drives.
New York Times News Service