A mysterious wave of sickness has affected a number of schools in Afghanistan. Hundreds of schoolgirls have been taken to hospital, and many teachers and officials suspect poisoners are to blame. But no poison has yet been found.
At the Bibi Hajera School in northern Afghanistan’s Takhar province, the day begins differently now.
The girls arrive in their clean white headscarves, but before they enter the classroom, their teachers search them. Each girl is patted down, even the smallest, and their schoolbags are opened and inspected.
On 23 May, class after class fell ill. By the end of the week, more than 40 were sick, and the school closed. Deliberate poisoning of the school water pump was suspected.
“First one or two of the girls was sick, then more,” said Naziah, who hasn’t reached her teens and wants to become a doctor one day.
“One of my classmates was in the school garden and she fell down and they took her to hospital. Some were sick on the street, some were sick at home.”
The school principal, Abdul Hai, has no doubt that an attack was to blame.
“Outside interference was responsible, the Afghan Taliban aren’t sophisticated enough to develop poisons. This was caused by the enemies of Afghanistan and our government,” he said.
The school had received no threats, no warnings that it would be targeted, he added.
All summer long, local and international television channels have broadcast updates of the suspected attacks. Girls fell sick in other provinces too – Khost, Bamiyan and Nangarhar.
The pictures are disturbing – young girls in hospital beds with drips attached, some wailing, others fainting.
At times local officials have given conflicting information – that the sickness was caused by poisons, then blaming mass hysteria. The girls usually left hospital within hours. None has died. …
- 3 July 2012: More than 250 girls taken to hospital in Sheberghan province with symptoms of poisoning
- 29 May: About 50 schoolgirls in Takhar province taken to hospital complaining of nausea
- 23 May: More than 120 girls taken to hospital in Takhar
- 15 May: Several hundred pupils taken ill in suspected attack on boys’ school in Khost province
- 9 May: About 100 schoolgirls and eight teachers taken to hospital in Balkh province
- 18 April: More than 100 schoolgirls fall ill in a suspected attack in Takhar
- 12 May 2009: About 90 girls fall ill in one of the first reported poisoning attacks, in Kapisa province