Afghans work to stem polio rise amid violence, pandemic

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Shabana Maani, gives a polio vaccination to a child in the old part of Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, March 29, 2021. Afghanistan is inoculating millions of children against polio after pandemic lockdowns stalled the effort to eradicate the crippling disease. But the recent killing of three vaccinators points to the dangers facing the campaign. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

KABUL – Afghanistan is trying to inoculate millions of children against polio after pandemic lockdowns stalled the effort to eradicate the crippling disease. But the recent killing of three vaccinators points to the dangers facing the campaign as turmoil grows in the country.

The three women were gunned down in two separate attacks on March 30 as they carried out door-to-door vaccinations in the eastern city of Jalalabad.

It was the first time that vaccination workers have been killed in a decade of door-to-door inoculations against the children’s disease in Afghanistan. Such attacks have been more common in neighboring Pakistan, where at least 70 vaccinators and security personnel connected to vaccination campaigns have been killed since 2011.

Afghanistan and Pakistan are the only two countries in the world where polio is still endemic, and both have seen a disturbing increase in cases in recent years. In Afghanistan, 56 new cases were reported in 2020, the highest number since 2011, when 80 cases were registered.

Adela Mohammadi, a 21-year-old vaccinator worker in Kabul, said her parents didn’t want her to go out to do inoculations on the day after the three women were killed in Jalalabad.

“I went, but with a lot of worry,” she told The Associated Press. “I was thinking what if someone was waiting for us and suddenly started shooting at us.”

“But at the end of the day, I love my job — I serve my people, especially children,” she said. “Such attacks can’t stop us from what we are doing.”

In Pakistan, officials have struggled to overcome deep public suspicion over vaccines particularly since the U.S. used a fake vaccination campaign to unearth the hideout of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. Hard-line clerics and militants have stoked the fears by depicting polio vaccinations as a Western plot to sterilize Muslim children.