For the past three years, the Taliban have banned UN-organized vaccination teams from conducting door-to-door campaigns in parts of Afghanistan under their control, apparently on suspicion that they may have been government or Western spies. . Due to the ongoing ban and fighting, some 3.3 million children have not been vaccinated in the last three years.
The Taliban reported that the deal now, after they became rulers of Afghanistan, seemed intended to show that they were willing to cooperate with international agencies. The militant insurgent force has long sought to gain world recognition for its new government and reopen the door to international aid to save the shattered economy.
The Taliban leadership did not confirm its agreement and Taliban officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
But the WHO and the UN children’s agency UNICEF said in a statement Monday that they welcomed the Taliban leadership’s decision to support the resumption of door-to-door polio vaccinations across the country.
Neighboring Afghanistan and Pakistan are the only countries in the world where polio remains endemic. The disease can cause partial paralysis in children. Since 2010, the country has conducted regular vaccination campaigns in which workers go door-to-door, giving the vaccine to children. Most workers are women, as they may have better access to mothers and children.
But large parts of the country have been out of their reach in recent years. In parts of the south, in particular, the Taliban ban was in place. In other areas, door-to-door campaigns were impossible due to fighting between the government and insurgents, or fears of kidnappings or street bombings. In some countries, hardline clerics have spoken out against vaccinations, calling them un-Islamic or a Western conspiracy.
The WHO said a new nationwide vaccination campaign would begin on November 8, followed by another synchronized with the polio vaccination campaign in Pakistan in December.
The estimated target population in Afghanistan is 10 million children under the age of 5, including more than 3.3 million who could not be reached as of 2018, said Dr Hamid Jafari, WHO director of polio eradication in the Eastern Mediterranean region. for The Associated Press.
The resumption of polio vaccination in all areas of Afghanistan will now prevent a major resurgence of polio outbreaks within the country and ensure that there is no international spread, Jafari said.
This is an extremely important step in the right direction, said Dapeng Luo, WHO Representative in Afghanistan. He said it was a good sign that numerous campaigns were planned. “Sustainable access to all children is essential to ending polio for good.
On March 30, three women were killed in two separate attacks while carrying out door-to-door vaccinations in the eastern city of Jalalabad. It was the first time vaccination workers were killed in a decade of door-to-door vaccination against the disease in Afghanistan.
Such attacks have been more common in Pakistan, where at least 70 vaccinators and security personnel linked to vaccination campaigns have been killed since 2011.
Afghanistan and Pakistan have seen an increase in cases. In Afghanistan, 56 new cases of polio were reported in 2020, the highest number since 2011, when 80 cases were recorded. Only one case of wild virus has been reported in 2021 in Afghanistan.
This decision will allow us to take a giant step in efforts to eradicate polio, said Herv Ludovic De Lys, UNICEF Representative in Afghanistan. To completely eliminate polio, every child in every family across Afghanistan needs to be vaccinated, and with our partners, that is what we are aiming to do, he said.
An extra dose of vitamin A will also be provided to children aged 6 to 59 months during the upcoming campaign.
Jafari said the Taliban government had agreed on three key aspects of safety for health workers and vaccinators, mobilizing health authorities and new leadership for the campaign, and communicating through religious, tribal and community leaders and the media to build trust in the campaign. .
He urged families not to have suspicions about vaccinators going from house to house, saying the sole purpose is to protect children. They have to trust the program. They have to trust the vaccine.
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