Officials in conflict-torn Afghanistan said Tuesday gunmen had shot dead at least five polio vaccinators and injured several others in separate attacks in eastern Nangarhar province.
Afghanistan and its neighbor Pakistan are the only two countries in the world where the crippling polio disease remains endemic.
Authorities said the early morning violence in parts of Jalalabad, the provincial capital, and nearby Khogyani district came on the second day of a four-day national campaign administering polio drops to children under five years of age.
Jan Mohammad, head of the provincial immunization department, told VOA they had suspended the vaccination campaign following the deadly attack. No one immediately took responsibility for what appeared to be a coordinated shooting spree.
In March, three female anti-polio workers were gunned down in Jalalabad during this year’s first polio immunization drive. Islamic State claimed responsibility for that attack. The terror group’s regional affiliate, known as IS Khorasan Province, has bases in Nangarhar and adjoining Afghan provinces.
The United Nations condemned Tuesday’s attack, saying depriving children from an assurance of a healthy life “is inhuman.”
Ramiz Alakbarov, U.N. secretary-general’s deputy special representative for Afghanistan, demanded the “senseless violence must stop” and authorities bring to justice those responsible for it.
“I am appalled by the brutality of these killings,” Alakbarov wrote on Twitter.
Afghanistan reported 56 new cases of polio last year. But officials say only one wild polio virus case has been detected in the country since October 2020, and transmissions to polio-free Afghan areas have also been contained.
Wahid Majrooh, the acting Afghan health minister, said on Monday the current immunization drive intends to administer polio drops to nearly 10 million children across the country’s 34 provinces.
He lamented, however, that relentless fighting and restrictions on door-to-door vaccinations in areas held by Taliban insurgents continue to deprive around three million children of the polio vaccine.
Majrooh again urged warring parties to help ensure trouble-free access for his teams so they can vaccinate all Afghan children against polio.
“We cannot end polio unless we are able to vaccinate children everywhere,” he said.