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Ghani gives UNICEF’s polio unit boss 24 hours to leave Afghanistan

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(Last Updated On: January 28, 2021)

President Ashraf Ghani gave Mohammed Mohammedi, the head of the United Nations Children’s Fund’s (UNICEF) polio eradication team in Afghanistan, 24 hours to leave the country, a presidential spokesman said.

According to a Facebook post on Wednesday by Dawa Khan Menapal, Mohammedi was given notice to leave the country for “ignoring the president and for the lack of transparency in his work.”

Meanwhile the Ministry of Public Health said that UNICEF had spent $22 million on an awareness campaign around polio but failed to provide a report to government.

According to Masooma Ghafari, the deputy spokeswoman for the health ministry, there was still an increase in the number of cases despite money having been spent on polio campaigns.

“We need to bring changes in the section,” she said.

Ghani’s sudden move to have Mohammedi expelled drew sharp criticism from some analysts who felt the move would have a negative effect on aid coming in from international organizations.

“Unfortunately, President Ghani’s act with an international organization was startling, and the act will affect the planning of international organizations badly,” said Asif Mobaligh, an international affairs analyst.

Ghani chats to Bill and Melinda Gates about polio concerns

The sudden move to expel Mohammedi also comes just days after Ghani held a telephone conference call with Bill and Melinda Gates whose Foundation is a key donor in Afghanistan’s drive to rid the country of wild polio.

During the meeting the Gates and Ghani expressed their concerns over the surge in polio cases in Afghanistan due to restrictions imposed by the Taliban in areas under their control, the Presidential Palace said in a statement after the virtual meeting.

“The two sides also held a comprehensive discussion on reforming the polio vaccine implementation process and increasing facilities in this regard,” the statement read.

Bill and his wife Melinda run the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – a funding organization. Polio eradication is one of their top priorities.

The virtual meeting on Monday night came after the Afghan Ministry of Public Health claimed that more than 3.5 million children have been deprived of anti-polio vaccinations due to Taliban restrictions.

Lancet reports 2020 was a bad year for polio

Earlier this month, the world’s leading medical journal, The Lancet, reported that there is growing concern about the effect the COVID-19 pandemic could have on global efforts to eradicate the disease.

Polio vaccination campaigns in Afghanistan were stopped in March last year for several months before being restarted in August.

Speaking to The Lancet, Mohammedi said the decision to halt vaccinations had been “a precautionary measure” as they did not want to contribute towards the spread of COVID-19.

“We didn’t want to replace one virus with another,” he said.

In 2020, 56 polio cases were reported in Afghanistan; in 2019 the number was 29.

UNICEF however estimates that last year, about 50 million children in Afghanistan and Pakistan missed out on vaccines because of the disruption in immunisation due to the pandemic.

Abdul Quayum Pokhla, director of the Regional Emergency Operation Centre for polio in
Kandahar, meanwhile told The Lancet that “2020 was another bad year not just for the south, but for the whole country.”

He said: “The virus spread not just to endemic areas in Afghanistan, but to some free zones. We’ve missed so many children and it will lead to reduced immunity. We are expecting more cases – the virus is circulating in the environment.”

UNICEF states that since 2018, approximately one million children just in southern Afghanistan have missed out on polio vaccinations because of insecurity.

“When it comes to a rise in polio cases, does it make a difference to have 50 or 100 cases? It’s the same root causes,” Mohammedi said.

“We have issues with access and this lack of access has been underestimated by the polio programme. For more than two and a half years some areas have had no access [to vaccines] but the strategy is the same”.

He said “polio is not a priority except for people working for the programme. We have donors that have become massively passive. We need active donors. The UN talks about polio as
if it’s a priority, but it’s not at all. If it were a top priority, the game would change.

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India hosting key SCO anti-terror meeting

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(Last Updated On: May 16, 2022)

The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s (SCO) anti-terror body Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) representatives came together Monday for the start of a three-day meeting in New Delhi.

Among those attending is a three-member Pakistani delegation that arrived in India on Saturday via the Wagah border.

The situation in Afghanistan and the worsening humanitarian crisis in the country is expected to be on the agenda.

According to Indian media reports, New Delhi is also expected to raise issues regarding the security situation in Afghanistan.

The RATS is the Executive Committee of the SCO, headquartered in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, which is a permanent unit of the organisation which serves to promote cooperation of member states against terrorism, separatism and extremism.

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IEA says girls’ schools will reopen soon

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(Last Updated On: May 16, 2022)

Zabihullah Mujahid, spokesman for the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA), and deputy minister of the IEA’s Ministry of Information and Culture, said progress has been made at a meeting of religious scholars and girls’ schools would reopen soon.

Speaking to reporters in Kabul on Sunday Mujahid said: “Good progress has been made at the meeting of the country’s scholars regarding the reopening of girls’ schools and other major political issues, and girls’ schools will be reopened in the near future.”

He said that the meeting, attended by tribal leaders and influential people of the country, is focusing on major political, security and social issues.

“The Ulema are consulting on the reopening of girls’ schools, and progress will be made soon,” said Mujahid.

Meanwhile, Anas Haqqani, a senior member of the Islamic Emirate, said on Wednesday that a meeting of religious scholars would be held to discuss the issue of girls going to school.

The closure of girls’ schools above the sixth grade sparked a major outcry around the world with the international community repeatedly calling for schools to reopen.

Officials at the Ministry of Education of the Islamic Emirate have said that they will reopen girls’ schools in the near future within the framework of Islamic principles.

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Uzbekistan to host international conference on Afghanistan

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(Last Updated On: May 16, 2022)

Tashkent will host a high-level international conference on Afghanistan at the end of July, Uzbekistan’s interim Minister of Foreign Affairs Vladimir Norov announced.

Norov said the key focus would be on security, political stability and the socio-economic development of the region.

“As for Afghanistan, unfortunately, we are seeing a decrease in the attention of the international community to the situation in this country. Meanwhile, the situation there remains difficult, due to the acute economic crisis and the difficult humanitarian situation, challenges to regional security and stability remain,” he said.

Tashkent Times reported that Norov felt the international community should take responsibility for the present and future of Afghanistan and provide continued assistance to resolve problems in the country.

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