8 March 2021
Casual Conversations in a Time of Covid-19
The transcription of a casual conversation about vaccines in Afghanistan with 'a historian of Central Asian history who has a graduate degree from GWU', as they describe themselves- a very contemporary conversation as we sit one year into Covid-19.
Them: I've found these two really cool photos today going through and old powerpoint presentation I saw that show how Afghans in the spring of 1995 transported and cooled vaccines for distribution during a ceasefire created solely for vaccinations and not gonna lie they're cool to look back on in the current moment. I feel like you might find them interesting and so sent them along.
Me: You are right, I do find them interesting! Why are Afghan men all fucking fashion models I swear. What vaccine is this and where in Afghanistan? this is fascinating ! As I’m sure you know better than me, that we've had issues with vaccines re: trust (of the white man and his medicines) just like most of the global south yet some very epic vaccinating programs HAVE worked in Afghanistan, like polio.
Them: So the immunisation program was directed by Faizullah Kakar, who is currently the chief of staff for Ghani. This was mostly a polio and tuberculosis campaign, for women of child bearing age and children. The campaign largely took place in South East Afghanistan, beginning in Chak e Wardak, Saroza Paktika, and Giru Ghazni. They ended up vaccinating 3 million people in 4 months and organised a ceasefire from Nov-Dec and April-May to distribute the vaccines, working alongside local Mullahs and what government structure remained. I've had a chance to speak with Dr. Kakar and honestly, for all the faults of the Afghan government, I really like him and found him warm-hearted and kind. I also think they distributed Vitamins A and E and Iodine tablets to mothers and young children, which is another really cool element of this that I appreciate. It's also interesting because the program began in 1989 under the Afghan Communists but was actually finished and worked on even after that government had collapsed, which to be honest is really cool and kind of shows that it's not like any [government] collapse is the whole thing at once and also shows, I think, the under appreciated dedication of a lot of the Afghans in the healthcare system at the time, to go into a war-zone and continue a vaccination program that began under a government that was gone.
Me: Wow! First just off the bat thank you, brain juice overload!
Them: One more thing: the people that transported the vaccines were not Ministry of Health people, they were regular people, scholars, teachers, shopkeepers, mullahs and soldiers and their commanders, that worked together to make the vaccination plan successful. That's the best part, in my honest opinion, that the plan only worked because regular people helped and soldiers disarmed to transport vaccines. Very inspirational.
Me: Okay SO many questions! Is it safe to assume that Kakar spearheaded the distribution re: it being just everyday folx or was that the way it played out for another reason? Did you speak to Kakar in relationship to this specifically? The photos you sent look more recent? The program was started in 1989 but you’ve sent photos of 1995 and also other times? Do we have locations for all of these photos? I'm overwhelmed with love for my people! And curiosity of this story! Thank you!
Them: The photos are from 1995 I'm pretty sure, and I have no locations. They're from either Kakar himself or someone on his team. I think these are all 1994/5- and I haven't spoken to him specifically about this, but he shared these pictures and information about this with me through [redacted the relationship for safety reasons]. I've been on the phone with him though haha. It played out this way I think, regarding regular people, because I think they had few resources to deliver the vaccines since it was winter in a war zone but I do want to ask him questions too, I have my own thoughts that I want to explore.