The Conflict over Aid: Why is the Taliban Targeting Polio Workers?

This past week, two policemen guarding polio workers in northwest Pakistan were gunned down along with one of the foreign medical workers assisting in polio vaccinations across the rural area.  Peshawar is not unfamiliar to violence- located at the nearby Afghan-Pakistan border, the largely conflicted area is a nexus of Taliban traffic between Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the Taliban continues to maintain strongholds in rural villages.  Culturally, Peshawar is also the crossroads between Central and South Asia as it remains at the eastern end of the Khyber Pass, a long-traveled trade route between the two regions.


Sadly, the lack of political control has made this highly contested area a difficult area to provide consistent medical attention.  Pakistan remains one of the only three countries in the world where polio remains endemic.  Polio still has widespread affects in Nigeria, Afghanistan and Chad, as well as Pakistan. Despite the dangers, medical workers have attempted to assist in nonpartisan capacity-building programs for medical facilities.  These medical interventions have been openly opposed by the Taliban, as they see foreign medical aid as a front for international politically-motivated espionage.  Recent attacks have not yet been claimed, but suspicion remains high.


Local religious and political officials have come out in support of the initiatives- prominent religious seminaries in Pakistan have combated Taliban rhetoric, saying that such treatments are not haram or un-Islamic.  Polio’s prevention and eradication remains an international health initiative, though it has steered clear of many Western nations since polio vaccinations were promoted by the state after its discovery in the mid-1950s.  For many social workers, the clear lines between underdevelopment, political stability and polio’s destructive nature are undeniable.

-Bridget Healy

To read more about polio abroad, refer to the BBC articles here!



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