Afghan Taliban in polio access concession

A woman administers vaccine to a child in Afghanistan. Photo by: Global Polio Eradication Initiative

The Taliban leadership in Afghanistan has announced a directive calling on members of the movement to provide “all necessary support” to polio health workers in the country – a statement that a polio eradication advocate said has largely been heeded.

“I welcome this statement. I would note that the Taliban in Afghanistan have traditionally been supportive of polio eradication and vaccination in general. This is further and continuing clarification on their part,” the Global Polio Eradication Initiative’s Sona Bari told Devex.

Attacks against polio workers have been reported in neighboring Pakistan, where the Taliban has been hostile to those introducing the vaccine in its strongholds.

The group is reportedly concerned that the vaccine leads to sterility among Muslim children. It is also wary that the activities are part of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s intelligence gathering – a tactic reportedly employed in its search for the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden.

But Bari said the Taliban in Afghanistan is “distinct and different” from the Pakistan Taliban.

“I have no concerns with this announcement, other than western media and audiences confusing the Afghanistan Taliban with elements of the Pakistani Taliban,” she said.

The statement released by the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan warns aid groups against employing foreign workers in its strongholds, and underscored the importance of the campaign’s respect of “Islamic values and local cultural traditions.”

Nonetheless, it asked its members “not to create any kind of trouble” for the health workers, “in case of compliance with these rudiments.”

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.