We each see world events through a lens of personal experience and concerns. Along with fear and sorrow for the Afghan people, I look at last week’s collapse through lenses of geography and history: an impoverished, almost impenetrable mountain region at a crossroads of ancient civilizations, repeatedly invaded, never brought under control. I also see it through the lens of polio eradication.
Endemic polio has paralyzed only two children so far this year, one each in Afghanistan and Pakistan, both in January. The Taliban doesn’t object to vaccination on principle, though local leaders vary. Instead, top leadership suspects house-to-house campaigns of being Western spy operations to help target drone strikes. And many believe scarce jobs as vaccinators should go exclusively to men, though a mother at home with her children may open her door only to a woman.
I can’t predict what the final Taliban takeover will mean for protecting children from polio. The dangers are real. Still, an end to decades of hostilities might increase security for families and health workers. Cessation of drone strikes could gradually ease suspicion. On the polio front, the present crisis may offer glimmers of hope.
See Science writer Leslie Roberts for more. Image: Child in Afghanistan receives polio vaccine (UNICEF file photo)
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.