With the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, health experts are concerned about the potential for polio outbreaks due to possible restrictions to immunization programs in the months and years ahead.

These concerns, although not the only obstacles facing polio eradication in the country, are not without cause.

While the Taliban has allowed more vaccine access in recent years, the group has historically opposed many vaccination campaigns and denied access to rural areasHealth workers in the region have also been targets of attacks for which the fundamentalist group has not claimed responsibility.

Following news of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) carrying out a fake vaccination campaign while searching for Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011, the Taliban launched an anti-vaccine campaign on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The CIA's mission would ultimately have grave consequences on global health initiatives in the years following.

In 2018, the Taliban’s ban on door-to-door polio vaccinations prevented more than 3 million children from accessing the vaccine, which was further exacerbated by multiple factors, including the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, the United Nations successfully negotiated with the Taliban to reintroduce door-to-door vaccinations. However, recently, some of these gains have been lost — door-to-door vaccinations have now been banned in some parts of the country. The UN continues to negotiate with the Taliban for access.

Afghanistan remains one of only two countries worldwide, alongside neighboring Pakistan, where polio is endemic.

Poliomyelitis (polio) is a highly infectious viral disease. While most polio cases are asymptomatic, the virus can cause paralysis or death. Although there is no cure, the disease is preventable through safe and effective vaccines.

Polio cases have declined by 99% since 1998, which marked the launch of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), but the disease's prevalence in the two countries is preventing total eradication and international NGOs say the Taliban is further encouraging that.

Read the full article about polio in Afghanistan by Jacky Habib at Global Citizen.