KUNAR -- The Taliban have blocked polio vaccinations in parts of six districts in Kunar Province, depriving 41,000 children from getting inoculated for the disease, officials say.
The militant group recently has stepped up efforts to prevent polio vaccinations in the region, Dr. Aziz-ur-Rahman Sapi, the Kunar public health director, said April 14.
He named Mazar Valley of Nurgal District, Dewagal Valley of Sawkai District, Badil Valley of Narang District, Shoraik Valley of Manogi District and Qowro Valley of Watapur District as well as Sarkano, Dangam and Ghaziabad districts as areas where the Taliban are focused on not allowing children to get vaccinated.
Militants in some areas only prevent public awareness of vaccinations, while in others, they prevent the entire vaccination programme at the expense of children, Sapi said.
"Based on coverage data from previous vaccination campaigns, 41,000 children have not received the vaccine, which is very concerning," he added.
Efforts are under way to resolve this issue through tribal jirgas, said Sapi.
"We have discussed this issue with the armed opposition groups through tribal channels and have asked them not to ruin the future of children," said Mohammad Sapi, a member of the Kunar provincial council.
"We told them that the Taliban leaders are the ones profiting from this war, while you guys are fighting, getting killed and causing problems. You should stop doing this," he said.
"We have had some progress in this regard," he added.
"In some areas where tribal elders had meetings with these militants, they have given them assurances that in the next vaccination campaigns, they will not oppose them. Let's see if they actually stand on their word."
Local residents are calling on the Taliban to end their opposition to vaccination.
"The vaccine has been [unavailable] in our valley for the last two years now," said Farooq Jan, who is originally from the Gambir area of Watapur Ditrict but is now living in the provincial capital of Asadabad. "Earlier it was ISIS [ 'Islamic State of Iraq and Syria'] that stopped vaccinations, but now it is the Taliban."
"I have lived in Asadabad for a few months now as my children did not have access to education or vaccination in my village," he added. "As a father, I had to think about the well-being of my children. If one of my children were to be affected by this disease, it would be my problem, not that of the Taliban or ISIS, so I had to do something about it."
"This is a major problem," he added. "Tribal elders must do their best to have the Taliban stop thwarting vaccinations so that our children can be healthy. They [militants] allow vaccinations in some areas but not in all, and this is not a solution. The Taliban must allow vaccination everywhere."
Qyamuddin, another resident of Asadabad who goes by one name, said the Taliban should seek peace rather than create obstacles that put children's lives in jeopardy.
"In the past, vaccination coverage in Kunar Province was quite high, but now, because of opposition by the Taliban, a large number of children do not receive vaccinations," he said. "The Taliban should make peace, agree to a ceasefire and end the war, but they have now thwarted vaccinations instead."
"We are hopeful that with the start of peace talks, the Taliban will end the war," he added. "There isn't a family that has not lost a member in the war, but the Taliban are still fighting and do not allow the implementation of vaccinations."
"If the war could have been won, they would have won it in the last 20 years, but they can't," Qyamuddin said. "So why do they keep putting the lives of civilians in danger?
"These children are the future of our country. Why are the Taliban making them disabled?" he asked.