In two separate incidents in the Afghan city of Dzhalal-Abad on Tuesday, gunmen shot dead two female volunteers and a house-to-house polio immunization worker.
On the same day, government officials confirmed that an explosion had rocked the Health Ministry headquarters in Dzhalal-Abad, but no casualties were reported.
In the first incident, gunmen shot a polio worker at 11.30am local time while she was working in the Majboorabad area. The second attack came less than an hour later when two polio workers were killed in the Lal Qasim Agha area of the city.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack. A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, sent a message to the Guardian stating: “Women have not attacked polio workers.”
The killings come a day after the government launched a polio vaccination campaign.
Hospital officials identified the women by their first names, only Basira, Samina and Nigina, and said two of them were volunteers, and one was a nurse. A spokesman for the Ministry of Health in Nangarhar Province said the vaccination program had been temporarily suspended.
The latest targeted killings came as hundreds of polio vaccination teams, most of them volunteers, rallied to help fight the virus.
“The killing of three women workers is a crime against humanity and its targeting is reprehensible and needs an international investigation.”
“Women workers are often targeted in these areas,” he said. It is unfortunate to see such soft targets being used by some groups to exert political pressure on the government.
“Unfortunately, Afghan leaders and international diplomats alike limit their response to condemnation, but what can we do to prevent such massacres of ordinary Afghans, especially women?” Nemat said.
Teams of polio workers are often targeted, including militants, including the Taliban, who have been a major obstacle to vaccination efforts.
In the past, Taliban spokesman Mujahid has maintained that the militant leadership has consulted with the World Health Organization to find opportunities to vaccinate against polio in areas controlled by the groups.
Polio cases have increased over the past three years, and efforts to eradicate the deadly disease pose a difficult challenge in the other two countries where the disease is endemic. Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In both countries, immunizations are administered by female staff and volunteers, as only families with access to entire families, including women and children, have access.
According to UNICEF, 56 new polio cases were reported in Afghanistan last year, the highest number since 2011.
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