Afghanistan begins first polio vaccination drive for children since Taliban takeover

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Taliban take measures during a march as women take part in to support Taliban in Kabul.
Taliban take measures during a march as women take part in to support Taliban in Kabul.

Bilal Guler/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Afghanistan on Monday launched a nationwide polio immunisation campaign – the first since the Taliban returned to power – aiming to protect about 10 million unvaccinated children from the crippling disease, a top official said.

The campaign aims to reach children below five years old, including about four million in areas that were previously inaccessible, Gula Khan Ayub, director for the programme told AFP.

Before they swept back to power in August, the Taliban banned polio vaccination teams from parts of the country.

Taliban leaders had told communities in areas they controlled that vaccines were a Western conspiracy aimed at sterilising Muslim children.

“This time we hope to reach areas that were inaccessible to vaccination campaigns in the past. It is still difficult but we are hopeful,” Ayub said.

“We do have full support of the Taliban leadership this time. Female vaccinators are also allowed to work side-by-side with their male colleagues.”

An extra dose of Vitamin A will also be given to the children during the campaign, Ayub said.

Afghanistan and neighbouring Pakistan are the only countries where the poliovirus remains endemic.

The United Nations’ health and children’s agencies said last month that they had been talking with the Taliban’s leadership to address the towering health challenges in the country.

A second nationwide polio vaccination campaign had also been agreed upon and would be synchronised with a campaign planned in neighbouring Pakistan in December, the agencies said.

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