Polio Campaign Undermined in Eastern Afghanistan
More than 10,000 children in Afghanistan’s Kunar province have missed out on polio vaccinations because both insurgents and local radio stations have campaigned against the programme, health officials say.
Three people have contracted polio this year, and 10,250 children have not received the vaccine in the Sarkano, Khas Kunar, Marawara, Shigal, Nari and Watapur districts, according to the head of the provincial public health department.
Two FM radio stations are warning residents not to vaccinate their children, while some refugees returning from Pakistan are spreading the same message, officials said.
Residents claim they are being warned that the inoculations are “haram”, or forbidden by Islam, and that the vaccine may cause disease.
Hazrat Gul, a 45-year-old resident of Shigal district, is among the parents who have not vaccinated their children.
“This is a border area and we have been threatened that if anyone receives this vaccine, they will not have a pleasant time,” he said.
Insurgents have intimidated public health officials trying to conduct vaccinations in Kunar’s more remote corners over the last two years.
“Around 30 of our workers were beaten and had their equipment taken and broken by insurgents because they say it’s haram,” Mohammad Es-Haq, head of the provincial vaccination department, said.
“The other issue is two FM radio stations. One is in Dangam [district] and controlled by Taleban, while the other is in an unknown border location – both of them are always saying this vaccine is haram,” Es-Haq added.
A Taleban spokesman denied his group movement opposed vaccinations, and said they would be a positive achievement if they saved children from polio.
“This is a local matter that’s about people’s mentality and decisions made by scholars in those areas,” he said. “We are working on this, and we want to follow it closely, but if people’s mentality prevents the programme going ahead, then the mujahedin won’t want to force people into it.”
Safar Sapai is an IWPR-trained radio reporter in Kunar, Afghanistan.
This report was produced as part of the Afghan Critical Mass Media Reporting in Uruzgan and Nangarharproject, and is also published on the Afghan Centre for Investigative Journalism website which IWPR has set up locally.