Four Afghan polio vaccinators shot dead
JALALABAD, Afghanistan — At least four people were killed Tuesday in a string of targeted attacks on polio workers in eastern Afghanistan, officials said, the second assault on vaccinators in the area in less than three months.
The polio workers were gunned down in three different locations over two hours, in a “coordinated attack”, Nangarhar 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 neighboring Pakistan, where distrust of vaccines and eradication campaigns is rife.
Officials said two vaccinators were killed and one wounded in Tuesday’s attacks in Khogyani district, while two were killed in Surkhrod.
In the other attack, three vaccinators were wounded in the provincial capital, Jalalabad.
The vaccination drive in the province had now been halted, another 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.
Tuesday’s attacks come less than three months after gunmen shot dead three women polio vaccinators in Jalalabad.
The country has faced a devastating wave of targeted attacks on politicians, activists and journalists which the Afghan government and United States have blamed on the Taliban.
They routinely deny responsibility.
Last week 10 people working for the HALO Trust mine-clearing organization were shot dead in northern Afghanistan.
The government said the Taliban were behind the attack, but the UK-based charity said the local militants actually stepped in to help.
The Taliban, and religious leaders, often tell communities that vaccines are a Western conspiracy aimed at sterilizing Muslim children, and they also suspect immunization drives are used to spy on militant activities.
Officials say the Taliban do not allow door-to-door campaigns in areas they control.
“We have reached a situation where systematically employees of demining, doctor, nurse, vaccinator, human rights defender and anyone seeking to save our lives and our children are killed,” said Shaharzad Akbar, the head of Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission.
“There is neither an effective prevention mechanism nor a punishment for the perpetrators.”
The Taliban have made huge gains across Afghanistan, as the United States prepare to pull out the last of its troops from the country by September after 20 years of war — even as peace talks between the Afghan government and Taliban have stalled.
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