“We’re not against polio immunisation” - Taliban spokesman

KABUL, 25 March 2009 (IRIN) - A Taliban spokesman has said the Taliban are not against polio immunisation campaigns in areas under their influence or control.

A statement to this effect was made to IRIN in a telephone interview with the insurgents’ chief spokesman, Qari Yusuf Ahmadi, from an unidentified location.

“We are not against polio immunisation and we have not impeded vaccinators in areas under our control,” said Ahmadi, adding that government and foreign forces should not try to use immunisation exercises for military and political gain.

“Vaccinators must coordinate with us before they begin the process,” he said.

Such claims may seem hard to believe given persistent accusations over the years of systematic Taliban attacks on health centres, the aid community and other civilians.

However, Abdullah Fahim, a spokesman for the Health Ministry (MoPH), appeared to acknowledge the Taliban statement: “We have not received reports that the Taliban have blocked polio immunisation [drives].”

Insecurity, largely resulting from insurgency-related violence, has impeded aid delivery, health activities and immunisation efforts in large swathes of the country, according to the UN.

The UN and the MoPH have said about 200,000 children, mostly in the volatile southern provinces, have missed out on polio immunisation.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), much of Afghanistan has been polio-free for the past two to three years except for the conflict-affected southern region where four polio cases have been reported so far in 2009. Some 31 cases were reported in 2008 and 17 cases in 2007.

Seven million immunised

Backed by UN agencies, the MoPH implemented a nationwide anti-polio drive on 15-17 March, immunising about seven million children under five.

However, over 150,000 children in the four southern provinces of Kandahar, Helmand, Zabul and Uruzgan missed doses of trivalent oral poliovirus vaccine (OPV3) because of access restrictions, Fahim said.

Security problems in areas along the porous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan (where 118 polio cases were confirmed in 2008) and the large-scale movement of people between the two countries have also complicated efforts to wipe out the virus which is endemic in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Nigeria, according to WHO.

Source: Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), a project the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. IRIN is UN humanitarian news and information service, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies.

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