HERAT -- The Taliban have prevented polio vaccinators from entering several districts of western Afghanistan, depriving nearly 500,000 children from receiving the life-saving drops, local authorities say.
Health workers conducted the second round of the polio vaccination's spring campaign from June 13-17 in Herat, Farah, Ghor and Badghis provinces.
As many as 1.1 million children under the age of five who live in the western region need polio shots, Abdul Wahid Rahmani, head of polio vaccination campaign in the western region, told reporters during a ceremony to launch the spring campaign in Herat city.
Due to insecurity and the Taliban's constant refusal to allow the door-to-door vaccination campaign in many districts, more than 40% of those children have been deprived of receiving the polio vaccine, he said.
"We estimate between 420,000 to 430,000 children under the age of five were deprived from receiving the vaccine during this recent round of the campaign," he said.
There was sufficient stock of vaccines and other facilities to cover the entire western region; however, the Taliban were the main obstacle, refusing to allow vaccinators to implement the campaign, Rahmani said.
By preventing the polio vaccination from being administered in many districts, the Taliban is showing its enmity towards Afghanistan's new generation, said Herat deputy governor Noor Ahmad Haidari.
"The Taliban are hostile to the Afghan people in all areas," he said.
On the one hand, they massacre civilians and destroy bridges and public roads to disrupt people's daily life, and on the other hand, they are preventing a new generation of children from having a good life by obstructing access to medical care, Haidari explained.
"Local tribal elders and religious scholars have called on the Taliban to co-operate and allow the implementation of polio vaccination in remote villages and districts, however, [the Taliban] have purposely ignored tribal elders' demand because of their ignorance and animosity," he said.
Children's future at risk
Across Afghanistan, 41 polio cases have been registered since January.
So far this year, authorities have registered 16 new polio cases in the western region, indicating a significant increase in the number of new cases compared to recent years.
Of the 16 positive cases in the western region, all were reported in areas under the Taliban control: six in Herat, five in Farah and five in Badghis province, Rahmani said.
The number of new positive cases has increased significantly every year since the Taliban blocked polio vaccination in areas under their control in 2019.
Wherever even one child becomes infected with polio, hundreds of other children are at risk of being infected, Rahmani said, adding that symptoms of the virus show up later in many children, so it is very likely that hundreds of children in the western region would be paralysed in the future.
Given the presence and circulation of the polio virus in the western region, the consequences of the Taliban's opposition to polio vaccination could be catastrophic, said Asif Kabir, deputy head of the Herat Provincial Health Directorate.
"We are very concerned about the future of children who live in areas under the Taliban control," Kabir said. "The Taliban do not pay any attention to the lives and health of children and even call the polio vaccine 'forbidden'."
"If we do not immediately vaccinate children across the western region, hundreds of children will be permanently paralysed and the Taliban are responsible for this human disaster," he said.
The health and wellness of citizens has nothing to do with political or military issues, and under international law and humanitarian values, the Taliban have no right to prevent children from being vaccinated, he said.
'An unforgivable crime'
The Taliban have no right to play with Afghan infants' lives, said Mahdi Hadid, a member of the Herat Provincial Council.
"I urge all parents not to let the Taliban put their children’s lives at risk," he said.
Families who live in areas under Taliban control should consider taking their children to the nearest health centre to immunise them against the virus, he said.
The international community and humanitarian institutions must not remain silent, he said, because this act of the Taliban is a clear violation of international laws, and a major crime against humanity.
"What will you get out of this?" Abdul Wasi Azizi, a resident of Herat city, asked, addressing the Taliban. "If these innocent children are not immunised against the virus, they will be paralysed and become a burden to the society for the rest of their lives."
The Taliban must understand that their own children also need the polio vaccine and therefore they should not prevent them from getting vaccinated, said Jahantab Tahiri, a member of the Herat Provincial Council.
"Afghans are physically and psychologically ill because of the Taliban's increasing violence and oppression, and if polio affects our new generation, we will all be destroyed," he said.
The Taliban's persistent and unjustified refusal to allow polio vaccination is a major setback for Afghanistan's new generation, Tahiri said.
"Preventing our children from getting vaccinated is an unforgivable crime."