The Burnet Institute expresses grave concern about the health and safety of the Afghan people as the Taliban occupies the capital, Kabul.
Our institute has been engaged with Afghanistan since 2009 when two of our staff began to provide advice through the World Health Organization (WHO) to the polio eradication program.
Afghanistan is one of just two countries in the world where wild poliovirus is still endemic – the other is neighbouring Pakistan.
In 2009, Dr Ben Coghlan described an innovative “Women’s Courtyard” program in the eastern city of Jalalabad. Women invited other women to their household safe spaces to discuss their concerns and questions about polio vaccination. These brave women most likely saved hundreds of children from lifetime paralysis or death.
Afghanistan’s polio elimination efforts are bearing fruit. This year, only one wild poliovirus case has been recorded.
In addition, Burnet has trained Afghan researchers in Kabul and Dubai through the “Children of Uruzgan” project by Save the Children. Under the Australian Leadership Awards program, Burnet brought 20 Afghan researchers to Melbourne for advanced training.
Professor Mike Toole recalls his visit to Kandahar in 2011 where in the governor’s office he spoke to a Taliban commander by phone. He told Mike that he supported the vaccination program because he didn’t want his kids to get polio.
The Burnet Institute implores the Taliban to continue to support the polio eradication initiative to rid the country of a terrible and sometimes deadly disease. We also ask them to continue to support other life-saving maternal and child health initiatives.
Finally, we plead with the international community to do everything possible to protect the Afghan people, especially women and girls, and avert a humanitarian disaster.