HERAT -- Local authorities in Badghis province have identified at least five new positive cases of polio among children since the beginning of the new solar year on March 21.
Medics registered four cases in Bala Murghab district and one in Qadis district, according to the Badghis provincial health directorate.
All of the cases occurred in areas that the Taliban control and where they have blocked polio vaccination, said Dr. Abdul Samad Yaqobi, acting director of the Badghis provincial health directorate.
"The five paralysed children are under the age of five and have not been vaccinated because of the Taliban's ban," he said, adding that the group has thwarted door-to-door polio vaccination in Bala Murghab.
In Qadis district, the Taliban could prevent the vaccination in only part of the district, but it still led to the spread of the virus among children in the two districts, he said.
The poliovirus is surging in the province and many children will be paralysed if they miss out on vaccinations, warned Yaqobi.
Workers have vaccinated only 33% of the province's 170,000 children under age five against polio, while the rest "are at risk" of contracting the disease because of the Taliban's ongoing obstructions, he said.
The Taliban leadership has instructed the militants to prevent vaccinators from entering areas under their control and from conducting door-to-door polio vaccination, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told an independent journalist on May 2.
Risking Afghan children
Badghis provincial council members and residents expressed their concerns over the emergence of five new polio cases and condemned the Taliban's stance describing it as "the enemy of humanity".
Preventing polio vaccination is a major setback for Afghanistan's new generation of children, said Monisa Qadari, Badghis provincial council secretary.
"We strongly condemn this act and urge the Taliban not to drag more children and infants into destruction and paralysis," she said. "The lives of thousands of infants are at risk in Badghis because of the Taliban's hostile decision."
Based on official data, 56 polio cases were registered across Afghanistan in 2020. All of the cases occurred in areas under Taliban control.
Access to health services is a basic human right, but it has been repeatedly violated by the Taliban, said Abdul Aziz Tawakuli, a civil society activist in Qala-e-Naw, the capital of Badghis province.
"The Taliban's act of preventing door-to-door vaccination is a clear violation of human rights and is just plain cruel," he said.
On the one hand they massacre civilians with suicide bombings, fighting and explosions, and on the other, they are preventing a new generation of children from having a good life by obstructing access to medical care, he added.
The Taliban are responsible for paralysing dozens of Afghan infants and therefore should be held accountable, Tawakuli said.
"We urge the Taliban to stop playing with our children's lives... and allow the polio vaccination campaign to be carried out in all districts and villages," said Qala-e-Naw resident Mohammad Adib.
Government vaccination efforts
After registering the five new polio cases this year, the provincial government has assigned a team to urgently implement a vaccination campaign throughout the province, said Badghis governor Hesamuddin Shams.
"We have mobilised all necessary medical resources and vaccines," he said, adding that officials hope the Taliban and local residents allow them to launch the campaign in order to avoid "a human catastrophe" in Bala Murghab.
"Due measures were taken to implement the polio vaccination campaign during each round throughout Badghis, but the Taliban have always prevented it," he added.
"Now is the time to implement polio vaccination campaigns in Bala Murghab and Qadis districts to avoid more infants becoming paralysed," said Khan Jan Zafar, a member of the Badghis provincial council.
"The Taliban have no right to use our infants and children as a tool to gain their objectives," he added.
The Taliban have no legitimate justification for preventing the implementation of the polio vaccine, Zafar said, adding that vaccination is the only choice to ensure children's healthy future.
"The international community supports government efforts to bring vaccines to every Afghan household, but the Taliban create obstacles to saving infants' lives," Zafar mentioned. "This act of the Taliban is not forgivable."
An anti-Islamic act
Religious scholars in Badghis province have emphasised the immediate need for vaccinating infants and condemned the Taliban's brutality in preventing the implementation of a nation-wide campaign.
Seeking health care is a religious act and all Muslims must vaccinate their children because it saves the lives of infants and of the future generation, said Maulawi Abdul Halim Sheikh-ul-Islami, director of the Hajj and Religious Affairs Department in Badghis.
"Polio vaccination is implemented all over the world as well as in Islamic countries, and preventing it has no Islamic validation," he added.
By giving a distorted interpretation of the polio vaccine, such as calling it a Western plot, the Taliban have cheated families and affected their infants' lives, he said.
Islam obliges every Muslim to co-operate with healthcare providers, especially vaccinators, said Halim.
A Muslim who saves his Muslim brother from an infectious disease or other danger has done the equivalent of saving all Muslims, according to Allah Almighty in the holy Qu'ran, he said.
Polio vaccine saves infants from paralysis and religion creates no obstacle to its use; therefore, all families must immunise their children, said Mawlawi Abdul Salam Sabri, a religious scholar in Qala-e-Naw city.
"The Taliban's arguments against polio vaccination are not valid because access to health services is one of the basic rights of every child," he added. "Preventing the polio vaccine deprives children of their basic rights."
The Taliban have committed a grave sin by depriving children of a vaccine to protect them from paralysis, he said. "They must understand that they will never be forgiven," he emphasised.