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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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Pakistan dispatches second consignment of earthquake relief

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(Last Updated On: June 25, 2022)

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Friday dispatched eight trucks loaded with relief goods for earthquake victims in Afghanistan.

According to a statement issued by the Pakistan government, the consignment, arranged by the National Disaster Management Authority, has been handed over to Afghan authorities.

The consignment consists of family tents, tarpaulins, blankets and emergency medicines.

“Pakistan is committed to continue supply of relief goods to Afghan brethren,” the statement read.

This comes after Pakistan sent in earthquake aid on Wednesday, just hours after the 6.1 magnitude earthquake hit Afghanistan’s eastern provinces, killing over 1,000 people and destroying thousands of houses.

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Taiwan announces $1 million for Afghan earthquake relief efforts

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(Last Updated On: June 25, 2022)

Taiwan will donate $1 million to Afghan earthquake relief efforts in response to a call from the United Nations and others for humanitarian assistance, the government said late on Thursday.

Taiwan’s presidential office said in a statement that the government would donate “based on the spirit of humanitarian care for disaster relief regardless of national borders (and) responding to the United Nations and other humanitarian calls,” Reuters reported.

However Taiwan will not send search and rescue teams after consulting with other countries and considering the difficulty of transportation, office spokesman Xavier Chang added.

Taiwan also lies in a quake-prone zone and regularly sends rescue teams to other disaster areas around the world.

China meanwhile has said it stands ready to provide Afghanistan aid, and on Friday its foreign ministry said that it is “stepping up efforts” to collect cash, tents, bed quilts and other humanitarian aid to deliver to Afghanistan as soon as possible, but did not offer details of the size of the aid package.

Around 1,000 people are already confirmed dead from the quake in a remote part of the country this week.

Earlier, the European Union announced 1 million euros for the earthquake relief efforts in Afghanistan.

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India reopens embassy in Kabul

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(Last Updated On: June 25, 2022)

India reopened its embassy in Kabul on Thursday, more than 10 months after closing it following the takeover of the city by the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA).

Indian media reported that New Delhi has sent a “technical team” of officials to be based in Kabul.

The move comes a few weeks after a team headed by senior Indian foreign ministry official J.P. Singh travelled to Kabul and met with IEA officials.

The Indian embassy will become the 15th mission to open in Kabul under the rule of IEA, along with Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, European Union and four Central Asian states.

“In order to closely monitor and coordinate the efforts of various stakeholders for the effective delivery of humanitarian assistance and in continuation of our engagement with the Afghan people, an Indian technical team has reached Kabul today and has been deployed in our Embassy there,” Indian foreign ministry said in an announcement, citing India’s “historical and civilizational relationship with the Afghan people” as the reason for the decision.

IEA welcomed India’s move to reopen its embassy in Kabul.

Hafiz Zia Ahmad, deputy spokesman of IEA’s foreign ministry, called on India to continue to provide humanitarian assistance to Afghans.

India meanwhile has sent its first consignment of earthquake relief aid to Afghanistan, where more than 1,000 people have been killed by the disaster.

India’s foreign ministry said the assistance was handed over by the Indian team that travelled aboard an Indian Air Force Ilyushin-76 aircraft, in the first such military, non-commercial transportation since last year.

In a separate development, Afghan Interior Ministry called for Afghan military cadets trained in India and other countries to return to the country and serve their people.

“Afghan cadets trained in India and other countries are a source of our national strength,” the Interior Ministry said on Twitter. “The Interior Ministry of the Islamic Emirate is ready to recruit these graduates according to their education & profession. Hopefully, they will return to the country & serve their people.”

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