A welcome piece of news from Afghanistan

The Taliban is backing a nationwide mass vaccination campaign by the United Nations against polio in that country.

The UN has announced a nationwide polio immunisation campaign in Afghanistan for the first time in many years.

Children’s agency Unicef said they had the full support of the Taliban for the project due to begin in early November.

The Taliban will also allow female staff on the campaign and provide security to the teams, the agency said.

In the past, the militant group have opposed vaccination, falsely claiming it was a Western conspiracy to sterilise Muslims.

Unicef said the house-to-house immunisation campaign beginning on 8 November would aim to reach nearly 10 million Afghan children under the age of five.

The campaign would be the first in over three years to reach all children in Afghanistan, including more than 3.3 million children in some parts of the country who have previously remained inaccessible to vaccination campaigns, the World Health Organization (WHO) and Unicef said in a statement.

“This decision will allow us to make a giant stride in the efforts to eradicate polio. To eliminate polio completely, every child in every household across Afghanistan must be vaccinated,” Hervé Ludovic de Lys, Unicef representative in Afghanistan, said.

The UN said it had also agreed to a second polio vaccination campaign co-ordinating with a similar project being planned in neighbouring Pakistan.
The disease is now only found in Afghanistan and Pakistan, after Africa was declared polio-free last year.

We have come tantalizingly close in the past to eradicating this deadly disease only to have vaccination campaigns in a few Muslim-majority countries stall because religious leaders fueled misinformation about vaccines. The incredibly short-sighted and reprehensible strategy of the US to use a fake vaccination campaign as part of its effort to locate Osama bin Laden only made things worse because it resulted in health workers being viewed with suspicion and killed.

Let’s hope that this push will finally result in the entire world soon being declared polio-free. That would be a major milestone in public health. As a polio survivor myself, I would love to see this day arrive in my lifetime.


  1. says

    This is all the more notable and surprising considering how the CIA poisoned the well in 2011, illegally misusing vaccinations to “gather intel” in Afghanistan, destroying all trust of charities in Afghanistan and many other countries.

    Perhaps the credit should go to Medicins Sans Frontiers. After the US’s intentional terrorist bombing of the MSF hospital in Kunduz, multiple items told how the Taliban took a “hands off” approach to the hospital and obeyed MSF’s rules (e.g. no guns or use of force in the building). Maybe the Taliban respected and trusted MSF enough to change their attitude towards vaccines.

  2. jrkrideau says

    @ 1 Intransitive
    My suspicion is than the old “sterilization’ argument is long gone. A lot of the Taliban leadership have lived in Peshawar or in Qatar They will have been exposed to modern medicine and vaccinations.

    Spyies were more likely the recent concern. With control of the entire country, the Taliban figures they can control any attempted CIA infiltration of the vaccination teams.

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