JALALABAD: At least five polio workers were shot dead in eastern Afghanistan on Tuesday, officials said, in the area’s second attacks on vaccinators in less than three months.

The workers were gunned down in three separate locations within hours in a “coordinated attack”, Nangarhar provincial police spokesman Farid Khan said.

“This is the work of the Taliban, targeting health workers to deprive people of polio vaccines,” he said.

Health ministry spokesman Osman Taheri confirmed the attacks. The Taliban denied responsibility.

Polio has been eradicated across the world apart from Afghanistan and neighbouring Pakistan, where distrust of vaccines and eradication campaigns is rife.

The Taliban and religious leaders often tell communities that vaccines are a Western conspiracy aimed at sterilising Muslim children, and they also suspect immunisation drives are used to spy on militant activities.

Officials say the Taliban do not allow door-to-door vaccination campaigns in areas they control.

Tuesday saw five vaccine workers killed and one wounded in a spate of attacks across Nangarhar, the local government said. Three were also wounded in the provincial capital, Jalalabad. The inoculation drive in the province had now been halted, a health official told AFP.

“These were all targeted attacks against polio vaccinators, and for now we have stopped all polio vaccination drives in Nangarhar province,” the official said, asking not to be named.

A top United Nations official, Ramiz Alakbarov, condemned Tuesday’s attacks. “Depriving children from an assurance of a healthy life is inhumane,” he said.

Published in Dawn, June 16th, 2021

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