KABUL: The United Nations has condemned the killing of eight polio vaccination workers in four locations in northern Afghanistan on Thursday, the first such attacks since nationwide immunization campaigns resumed last November.
One member of the vaccination transit team was killed in Taloqan district in Takhar province, while four members of house-to-house teams were murdered in two separate incidents in Kunduz city, according to a statement from the UN Country Team.
Two vaccinators and a social mobilizer were killed in Emamsaheb district of Kunduz province.
In the wake of the carnage, the UN immediately suspended the national polio vaccination campaign in Kunduz and Takhar provinces.
Violation of humanitarian law
Ramiz Alakbarov, the Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan, took to Twitter to express condemnation in the strongest terms. He said the attacks and assassinations were a violation of international humanitarian law.
The head of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyeus, has also expressed his profound shock. Four of the health workers were women, he said in a post on Twitter.
“We extend our deepest condolences to their families and colleagues,” he wrote, adding that health workers should not be targeted.
Health under fire
The UN Country Team was appalled by the brutality of the killings, noting that this was not the first time health workers have come under attack.
Last year, nine polio workers were killed during national polio vaccination campaigns.
These immunization exercises are a vital and effective way to reach millions of children to protect them against polio, the UN statement said, and depriving them from an assurance of a healthy life is inhumane.
“This senseless violence must stop immediately, and those responsible must be investigated and brought to justice. These attacks are a violation of international humanitarian law.”
The UN strongly condemns all attacks on health workers anywhere, stressing that delivery of health care is impartial.
Children suffer most
The polio vaccination campaign in Afghanistan is supported by WHO, together with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other partners.
They planned to target nearly 10 million under-fives across the country this month, with four more rounds scheduled for the rest of the year.
Dr Ahmed Al-Mandhari, WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean, said the suspension of the programme in Kunduz and Takhar provinces leaves thousands of children unprotected and exposed to a life-threatening disease that can result in permanent paralysis.
In calling for an end to “senseless attacks” on health workers, Dr. Al-Mandhari pointed out that they are strictly forbidden in all faiths.
“These cowardly acts ultimately only harm innocent children who must be given every opportunity to live safe and healthy lives,” he said.
“WHO condemns all attacks on health workers in the strongest terms and appeal to the Taliban Authorities to immediately identify and bring the perpetrators to justice.”