Eight people, all part of a polio vaccination drive, were killed in simultaneous attacks in Afghanistan on Wednesday, say reports arriving from Kabul.
Eight polio vaccination workers in four locations in northern Afghanistan were killed today while administering polio vaccinations on Thursday, according to reports arriving from Kabul today.
The simultaneous attacks in three different districts indicate a well-thought out and orchestrated killings. The murders were carried out in the districts of Taloqan, Kunduz and Emamsahed.
A member of a vaccination transit team was killed in Taloqan district in the province of Takhar. In the following hours, another four members of a campaign and vaccination team visiting homes were killed in two separate incidents in the city of Kunduz city. Two vaccinators and a social mobilizer were killed in Emamsaheb district, not very far from Kunduz city.
Polio vaccinators and workers undertake a risky job in Afghanistan which has a history of killing of polio workers. But workers had begun to feel safe till nine polio workers were killed in 2021 while carrying out their work.
Thursday’s attacks on polio workers are the workers since nationwide campaigns resumed in November last year.
The United Nations office issued a statement condemning the attacks. “We are appalled by the brutality of these killings, across four separate locations,” the statement read, adding, “This is not the first time health workers have come under attack.”
The UN has responded by suspending the national polio vaccination campaign in Kunduz and Takhar provinces.
Violation of humanitarian law
Calling such attacks a violation of international humanitarian law, the UN said, “This senseless violence must stop immediately, and those responsible must be investigated and brought to justice.”
Ramiz Alakbarov, the Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan, took to Twitter to express his condemnation of the killings, iterating that the attacks and assassinations were a violation of international humanitarian law.
The director general of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyeus, has also expressed his profound shock.
“We extend our deepest condolences to their families and colleagues,” he wrote on Twitter, imploring that health workers should not be targeted.
But all UN official’s messages were silent about mentioning the Taliban for any role in the attacks.
Children suffer most
The polio vaccination campaign in Afghanistan is supported by WHO, together with the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF and other national and international partners.
The agencies had planned to target nearly 10 million children under the age of five years across the country this month, with four more rounds scheduled for the rest of the year.
Ahmed Al-Mandhari, WHO’s regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean, said the suspension of the programme in Kunduz and Takhar provinces leaves thousands of children unprotected and exposed to a life-threatening disease that can result in permanent paralysis.
Image: A child is vaccinated against polio, in Kandahar, Southern Afghanistan.
Courtesy, UNICEF / Frank Dejongh