Taliban rise in Afghanistan risks polio resurgence as 3 million children denied vaccine

Joe Biden slammed for having ‘no idea’ about Taliban

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Devastating pictures and videos have flooded the Internet over the past few days as Afghans scramble to try and escape their home country amid fears of a Taliban takeover. On Monday, tens of thousands of Afghans were pictured on the tarmac of Kabul’s international airport grabbing onto planes that were flying out of the capital. A new Taliban-led Afghan government is expected to take power in a matter of days.

They have insisted they were seeking a peaceful transfer of power and promised an amnesty for those who had worked with foreign countries or the Afghan government.

However such assurances have been met with deep scepticism amid fears they would return to the hardline policies they pursued before they were forced out in 2001 – including the suppression of women and children.

Now, a new study warns their rise “puts polio eradication in danger”.

The authors said US troop withdrawal from the country “is imperilling the three-decade global quest to eradicate polio”.

The Taliban has denied children vaccines

The Taliban has denied children vaccines (Image: GETTY)

The virus could resurge in Afghanistan

The virus could resurge in Afghanistan (Image: GETTY)

Polio, or poliomyelitis, is a disabling and life-threatening disease caused by the poliovirus.

The virus spreads from person to person and can infect a person’s spinal cord, causing paralysis.

In 1981, the poliovirus genome was published by two different teams of researchers and since then two different vaccines have been successfully eradicated two out of the three serotypes of poliovirus.

But experts say the Taliban, which now controls large swaths of the country, has “blocked house-to-house polio vaccination in areas under its reign”.

This is said to be putting up to three million children out of reach of the campaign.

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Afghans piled on a US cargo ship

Afghans piled on a US cargo ship (Image: GETTY)

Experts are seeking to work with the Taliban in order to allow vaccinations to continue.

Hopes that the Taliban would allow vaccinators to at least administer drops at central sites under their control, such as in local mosques, have not fared well.

The Taliban’s military leadership enacted the ban on door-to-door vaccination teams in May 2018 after alleging health workers were spies gathering intelligence for airstrikes and special forces raids.

The insurgents claimed commanders had been targeted shortly after their areas had been visited by vaccination teams.

Locals held on to a US Air Force plane yesterday

Locals held on to a US Air Force plane yesterday (Image: GETTY)

Health workers are said to have been denied access

Health workers are said to have been denied access (Image: GETTY)

But Godwin Mindra, acting polio chief for Unicef in Afghanistan, said the door-to-door approach was the mainstay of polio vaccination and enabled teams to reach more children.

He said: “The reason we do house-to-house campaigns is we can follow these kids very closely, we can go to homes with newborns, we can go to homes where there are sick kids who are not able to go to a health facility, we can go to homes where there are visiting children.

“Unfortunately, in areas where we have had bans by the Taliban, since May of 2018, these kids have repeatedly not received polio vaccine. That means their immunity to the virus has lowered.

“For every three children we are targeting, we are missing one. That’s significant and if we continue with the critical mass of children who are missed, we have a risk that it will be hard for us to eliminate in terms of getting the virus circulation stopped.”

Roy Walsh

Roy Walsh

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