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UN suspends anti-polio drive in 2 Afghan provinces 

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NEW YORK: The United Nations suspended its polio vaccination campaign in Kunduz and Takhar provinces where 8 polio vaccinators have been killed during a series of target attacks on Friday.

A statement issued at the UN headquarters has condemned the killing of eight polio vaccination workers at four locations in northern Afghanistan this week, reminding the perpetrators that this was a clear violation of international humanitarian laws.

“This senseless violence must stop immediately, and those responsible must be investigated and brought to justice,” the statement said, adding that UN health workers were “appalled by the brutality” of the attacks.

Although this was the first such killing since nationwide immunization campaigns resumed last November, health workers in Afghanistan have been attacked before too. Last year, nine polio workers were killed during national polio vaccination campaigns.

On Thursday, one member of the vaccination team was killed in the Taloqan district in Takhar province, while four members of house-to-house teams were murdered in two separate incidents in Kunduz city.

Two vaccinators and a social mobilizer were killed in the Emamsaheb district of Kunduz province. Ramiz Alakbarov, the UN Secretary-General’s deputy special representative for Afghanistan, tweeted that the attacks were “a violation of international humanitarian law”.

The head of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyeus, also expressed his profound shock. Four of the health workers were women, he pointed out in a post on Twitter.

“We extend our deepest condolences to their families and colleagues,” he wrote.

These immunization exercises were “a vital and effective way” to protect millions of children from polio and deprive them of an assurance “of a healthy life is inhumane”, the UN said. The statement also stressed the impartiality of the immunization campaign.

UN agencies and their partners plan to target nearly 10 million under-fives across Afghanistan this month, with four more rounds scheduled for the rest of the year.

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