The United Nations said Thursday at least eight members of polio vaccination teams were killed “during the course of their life-saving work” in Afghanistan.
Ramiz Alakbarov, the U.N. secretary-general’s deputy special representative for the South Asian nation, strongly condemned the violence while disclosing details of the incidents in the Afghan provinces of Takhar and Kunduz.
“We are appalled by the brutality of these killings, across four separate locations,” Alakbarov said in a statement. “These are the first attacks on polio workers since nationwide campaigns resumed in November last year.”
The envoy said the violence prompted Afghan authorities, the Taliban, to suspend house-to-house polio vaccination campaigns in Takhar and Kunduz. There were no immediate claims of responsibly for the violence.
Afghan health workers have previously come under attack across the country, ravaged by years of war and persistent drought. Nine polio workers were killed during national polio vaccination drives in 2021.
“This senseless violence must stop immediately, and those responsible must be investigated and brought to justice. This is a violation of international humanitarian law,” Alakbarov said.
Afghanistan and Pakistan are the only two countries where wild poliovirus continues to paralyze children, although new cases have dropped lately to historic low levels on both sides of the border.
The last wild poliovirus infection in Pakistan was detected in January 2021. Afghanistan has reported one case in 2022. Four were detected there last year. The dramatic drop in cases in both countries has raised hopes of ridding the region of the crippling disease.
U.N. officials say the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and cessation of hostilities have led to an increase in vaccination rates and health workers were able to vaccinate 2.6 million additional children in November and December for the first time in three years.