Annual Polio Vaccination Campaign in Afghanistan starts under Taliban. According to the health ministry, the Taliban regime in Afghanistan has began the yearly polio immunization program, which aims to target more than nine million children under the age of five.
Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan are the last nations in the world with endemic polio, an incurable and highly infectious illness that can cause devastating paralysis – and even death – in young children.
Polio has been largely eradicated worldwide thanks to a decades-long immunization campaign. Yet, insecurity, inhospitable terrain, mass displacement, and fears of outside involvement have impeded mass immunization in Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan.
Nek Wali Shah Momin, director of Afghanistan’s National Emergency Operation Center (EOC) for Polio Eradication, claimed that since the Taliban took control of Kabul in August 2021 and the combat ceased, many more districts could now be reached.
The EOC is led by the health ministry and involves international organizations such as the World Health Organization and the United Nations agency for children.
According to the government, the campaign, which began on Monday, will run four days and encompass 31 of the country’s 34 regions. The vaccine has been postponed in the remaining three provinces due to severely cold weather, according to health ministry spokeswoman Sharafat Zaman.
“Fortunately, we had no positive instances this year,” said the spokesman.
Two cases of the wild form of poliovirus were discovered in Afghanistan last year.
While the Taliban has recently barred many female NGO workers from working and barred women from entering universities and most high schools, EOC director Momin stated that female vaccinators were working on the campaign.
He stated that women were critical in reaching out to youngsters who were frequently at home with their female caretakers and were not normally comfortable talking with male vaccinators.
Momin stated that in locations where vaccination teams had to travel greater distances, authorities required female personnel to be accompanied by a male chaperone. He stated that they had recruited and trained male family members of the female vaccinators to help with the immunization operations of the teams.
In the past, certain armed factions have targeted vaccination attempts. In 2022, eight workers were killed in northern Afghanistan attacks.
“The support of all Afghans, including parents, community leaders, ethnic elders, and religious leaders, is crucial to eradicating polio, and we want them to participate in the fight,” said Qalandar Ebad, the Taliban’s acting health minister.
Vaccination campaigns in Afghanistan and Pakistan are frequently hampered by conspiracy theories claiming that polio immunization causes infertility or that vaccinators are being deployed as spies.
Before capturing control of the entire country in 2021, the Taliban prohibited door-to-door vaccinations in places under their control. Nonetheless, the UN was able to effectively negotiate with the Taliban to recommence the program.
Some health experts believe the Taliban’s influence, whose declared purpose is to impose their rigid interpretation of Islamic law, could assist increase vaccination in conservative communities around the region.
“The role of religious leaders in the polio eradication drive in both Pakistan and Afghanistan is critical… “The Taliban’s active participation in polio programs is a very positive and significant development,” said Rana Jawad Asghar, an epidemiologist and CEO of the Pakistan-based company Global Health Strategists and Implementers.