Attacks End Effort to Eradicate Polio in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Militants shot dead three more health workers on an anti-polio drive in a string of attacks in Pakistan on Wednesday, bringing the death toll to nine in past 48 hours. 

Following the repeated attacks, the World Health Organization suspended its anti-polio drive in the country and directed its field workers to stop their respected missions across Pakistan until further notification. 

Police officials said that gunmen opened fire at a vehicle carrying two health workers including a lady supervisor of polio-eradication team in Battagram town of Charsadda, a district in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. 

The attackers fled the scene following the attack. 

Another worker who got injured in firing by gunmen in Peshawar, earlier in the morning succumbed to injuries at the hospital, bringing the death toll to three since this morning. 

Since morning four incidents of firing on polio-eradication teams took place in the province including two in Charsadda, one in Nowshera and another in Peshawar. 

Four women health workers were shot dead by men on motorbikes in three separate areas of Karachi, within the space of 20 minutes on Tuesday. 

The fifth woman was killed in Peshawar. A sixth vaccination worker, a man, was killed on Monday.

It was not clear who was behind the shootings, but Taliban insurgents have repeatedly denounced the vaccination campaign as a Western plot. The campaign aims to wipe out polio in one of the last three countries where it is endemic.

All of the victims were Pakistanis who are among the tens of thousands working with a UN-backed program to eradicate polio, a disease which can be prevented but not cured and can cause permanent paralysis within hours of infection.

The polio teams had received telephone calls warning workers they would regret helping the “infidel” campaign against polio, health official Gul Naz said.

 “Such attacks deprive Pakistan’s most vulnerable population – especially children – of basic life-saving health interventions,” the World Health Organization and the UN Children’s Fund, which are working with the Pakistani government on the campaign, said in a joint statement.

Health officials suspended the campaign in two provinces of Pakistan, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Karachi, the capital of Sindh, is Pakistan’s biggest city and home to 18 million people.

Unlike India, which this year was declared polio-free, Pakistan is one of three nations still threatened by polio. The others are Nigeria and Afghanistan.

The Pakistani government has declared polio as emergency and planned to target 33 million children for vaccination in 20102. Some 88,000 health workers were also enrolled across the country to deliver vaccination drops. 

In Karachi, provincial Health Minister Saghir Ahmed said the government had told 24,000 polio workers it was suspending the anti-polio drive in Sindh province.

There have been at least three other shootings involving polio-eradication workers this year.

Some hardline Muslim militants and Muslim preachers say the polio vaccine is a Western plot to sterilize Muslims while other religious leaders have taken part in campaigns aimed at debunking that myth.

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