HERAT -- The Taliban's ongoing campaign to block vaccinations has led to four cases of polio over the past two months in western Afghanistan, and shine a spotlight on the group's "un-Islamic" stance on the subject.
Two cases of polio were registered in Bala Buluk District of Farah Province, where the Taliban have a presence, said Dr. Abdul Waheed Rahmani, who is in charge of the polio vaccination programme in the western zone.
One polio case was registered in Bala Murghab District of Badghis Province and another in Pashtun Zarghun District of Herat Province, he said.
All of the cases occurred in areas under Taliban control.
"No polio case had been registered in the western zone in the last five years, but since the Taliban have prevented polio vaccinations, four cases of polio were registered just in the months of December and January," Rahmani said.
The Taliban prevent door-to-door polio vaccinations in the areas under their control and do not allow health workers to vaccinate children.
More than 1,110,000 Afghan children under the age of five need polio vaccinations, according to the Ministry of Public Health. However, the Taliban's presence and security challenges prevent overall coverage from surpassing 50%.
More than 85% of children in areas under Taliban control are deprived of polio vaccinations.
"Polio vaccination is a national programme that ensures the future generation of Afghanistan is healthy. Even if one child misses a polio vaccination, the risks of polio or permanent paralysis are there," said Rahmani.
"The fact that more than 550,000 children in the western zone have not received polio vaccination is of great concern, and the expectation is that the number of polio cases will rise," he added.
The Afghan government, with the support of international organisations, launched a polio vaccination campaign on January 27 in the western zone.
In impairing the latest campaign, the Taliban have prevented door-to-door vaccination in Shindand, Keshk Kuhna, Keshk Rabat Sangi and Gulran districts of Herat, said Dr. Muhammad Asef Kabir, deputy director of the Herat Department of Public Health.
In those four districts, polio vaccination takes place only in clinics, he added. In other districts of Herat Province, door-to-door vaccinations are occurring.
No cases of polio had occurred after door-to-door vaccination campaigns began five years ago, according to Kabir. However, since the Taliban began preventing vaccinations in areas under their control last March, polio has returned. In the past two months, it permanently paralysed four Afghan children, the four patients cited by Rahmani.
If the Taliban continue to prevent polio vaccinations, the number of polio cases will increase, an alarming prospect for the Ministry of Public Health and aid agencies in the health sector, he said.
An anti-Islamic act
Religious scholars in Herat called the Taliban's anti-vaccination policy un-Islamic and urged all families to ignore the militants' threats and take their children to health centres for vaccinations.
Seeking health care is a religious act and all Muslims must vaccinate their children, said Mawlawi Said Mohammad Hussaini, a religious scholar in Herat city.
The Taliban motives in preventing polio vaccination are political, not religious, he added.
"The Taliban must know that polio will affect their children and will paralyse them too. Polio paralyses the children of Muslims, and in order to save society from this dangerous disease, the Taliban should not prevent polio vaccination implementation," Hussaini said.
Religious scholars in the Muslim world, including those from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Afghanistan, have released multiple fatwas that call polio vaccinations a religious duty of all Muslims, he said.
The Taliban's arguments against polio vaccination are not valid and the fatwa of religious scholars highlights the importance of polio vaccination, he added.
It is the religious duty of parents to immunise their children, said Hussaini.
Afghans should stand against the Taliban and vaccinate their children, said Dr. Mahdi Hadid, a member of the Herat provincial council.
The Taliban do not care about the lives of children and civilians should not allow anyone to play with the future of their children, he said.
"The Taliban must not politicise the health sector. Polio vaccination is a global campaign. If cases of polio increase in Afghanistan, it will threaten children across the world as the polio virus will spread to other countries," Hadid added.