Kabul: Afghanistan, a country in turmoil, has been trying to inoculate millions of children against polio but the recent killing of three female vaccinators has put the country’s campaign in doubt. However, brave women of the country remain determined to continue efforts in the face of danger and violence.
Unknown gunmen shot vaccination workers at two separate locations in the eastern city of Jalalabad on March 30 killing two volunteers and one supervisor in the polio immunization program, all of them women, as they carried out door-to-door vaccinations.
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, which also started a vaccination program last month, 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 vaccination 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,” she said. “But at the end of the day, I love my job, I serve my people, especially children. 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.
In Afghanistan, some have also been suspicious of vaccinations, but that rarely if ever translated into violence. The new killings appear to reflect the disturbing rise in chaos in the past year when the country has seen increasing targeted killings, sometimes of professionals or civil society figures, sometimes just seemingly at random.
Daesh has claimed responsibility for some of the violence. However, the perpetrators of many attacks remain unknown, including the killings of the vaccination workers. The violence adds a new worry as Afghanistan struggles to stamp out a disease that has largely been eliminated around the world.