ISIS, Taliban prevent polio vaccination of 200,000 Afghan children

By Najibullah


An Afghan health worker administers the polio vaccine to a child during a vaccination campaign in Kabul on February 28, 2017. Polio, once a worldwide scourge, is endemic in just three countries now -- Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan. [SHAH MARAI/AFP]

KABUL -- The Taliban and "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) are preventing children from receiving the polio vaccine in areas where they have a presence, Ministry of Health and district officials say.

"Unfortunately, 200,000 children in different areas of the country have been deprived from receiving polio vaccination due either to the war or to the Taliban and ISIS," Dr. Hedayatullah Stanekzai, a consultant at the ministry, told Salaam Times.

Afghanistan is among the few countries in the world that have been unable to eliminate polio, mainly because of the lack of security and because of militants' obstruction.

Vaccination is the only way to prevent children's paralysis from polio and the vaccination programme has been making progress in Afghanistan, Stanekzai said.

In 2016, Afghanistan recorded 13 new cases of polio, according to Health Ministry statistics. So far in 2017, six cases have been recorded -- five in southern Afghanistan and one in the north-east. The most recent case was found in Arghandab District of Zabul Province in August.

Nonetheless, during the ministry's latest polio vaccination campaign in September, Taliban and ISIS militants prevented children from receiving the vaccine in Darzab and Qush Tepa districts of Jawzjan Province.

In those two districts, where the militants have had a strong presence at times, 27,380 children were unable to receive the vaccination, according to Stanekzai.

The other more than 172,000 children deprived of the vaccine come from across Afghanistan, mostly in Kandahar, Helmand, Kunduz, Paktia and Ghor provinces.

Militants ban polio vaccination

Darzab District Governor Baz Mohammad Dawar said ISIS militants distributed flyers in the area saying they will not allow polio vaccination.

"In addition to preventing polio vaccination, they have also imposed other restrictions such as preventing cigarette smoking, listening to the radio, watching TV and satellite stations, and consumption of energy drinks," he told Salaam Times.

"As a result of the ongoing war between ISIS and the Taliban in Khataye Saya, Chahar Saya, Dasht-i-Leili, Qarai, Shor Qadooq, Turkmen Qadooq and Chaqama Chaqur areas of this district people have left their homes," said Qush Tepa District Governor Aminullah. "Moreover, this war has also prevented the implementation of polio vaccination campaign in Qush Tepa District."

"[The locals] even sent their elders to meet with the Taliban and ISIS in order to solve this problem, but the militants' answer to tribal elders was negative," he told Salaam Times.

'Children deserve mercy'

Preventing the implementation of polio vaccines demonstrates the militants' hostility towards the Afghan people, said Saber, a civil society activist in Kabul who provided only his first name.

"Children deserve mercy," he told Salaam Times. "If ISIS and Taliban consider themselves as Afghans and Muslims, they should not prevent the administration of the polio vaccination."

Because of the brutality of the Taliban and ISIS, Afghan children -- who are the country's future -- are at risk of contracting the incurable disease, said Jamila, a student at Kabul University.

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