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Afghan Taliban support polio vaccination campaign

By Masoud Popalzai, CNN
updated 3:46 PM EST, Tue January 17, 2012
Afghan President Hamid Karzai says polio remains a problem in both Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai says polio remains a problem in both Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Taliban spokesman: "The polio vaccinators must not use government resources"
  • The spokesman says the Taliban have always supported vaccinations
  • Polio remains a problem in both Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan

Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) -- The Taliban will permit a program of polio vaccination in the volatile Afghanistan-Pakistan border area, their spokesman told CNN in an e-mail Tuesday, after consistent pressure over the issue.

The statement comes a day after Afghan President Hamid Karzai called on the Taliban and other insurgents to allow the vaccination teams to help save children from a lifetime of paralysis. It marks the Taliban's latest move to garner respectability amid attempts to get peace talks under way in the region.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said insurgents had been instructed to let the vaccinations take place provided aid workers do not use government facilities.

"The polio vaccinators must not use government resources, including vehicles and soldiers, and they should use their own resources so that they impartially execute their program," Mujahid said. He added the Taliban have always backed vaccinations.

The statement to CNN came the same day that the presidential palace appealed to the Taliban to let the vital program take place unhindered. "Despite all the past efforts to vaccinate millions against polio, there are still children suffering from the disease on both sides of the Durand Line," Karzai said. The Durand Line is the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The statement from the palace added: "The president appeals to religious scholars, mullahs and community leaders and elders to cooperate with the immunization teams by persuading the opposition to allow vaccinators to administer polio drops to children against the permanent paralysis."

According to World Health Organization, there are four countries in which the transmission of polio has never been stopped: Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan. They face a range of challenges, such as insecurity, weak health systems and poor sanitation.

Polio could spread from these "endemic" countries to infect children in other countries with less-than-adequate vaccination, the organization says.

Reports from the Afghan Ministry of Public Health show a threefold rise in the number of polio cases in 2011 compared with that of 2010. A ministry report that covered 2011 showed 80 cases in Afghanistan, 62 of which were in the south of the country, the government statement said.

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