Polio workers boycott campaign in Balochistan as 4 workers gunned down

Updated November 26, 2014

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Volunteers shift an injured polio female health worker at a hospital in Quetta on November 26, 2014. - AFP
Volunteers shift an injured polio female health worker at a hospital in Quetta on November 26, 2014. - AFP
A polio worker receives treatment as she talks on a phone at a local hospital in Quetta, Pakistan, Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014. - AP
A polio worker receives treatment as she talks on a phone at a local hospital in Quetta, Pakistan, Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014. - AP
A policeman inspects the van after an attack on female polio health workers in Quetta on November 26, 2014. - AFP
A policeman inspects the van after an attack on female polio health workers in Quetta on November 26, 2014. - AFP

QUETTA: Four polio workers, including three women, were killed and three others injured on Wednesday morning when unknown gunmen opened fire on a polio vaccination team near Quetta's Eastern Bypass area. The Lady Health Workers (LHW) association in the province subsequently announced a boycott of the polio campaign in Balochistan.

According to police, armed men opened fire at the polio team, killing four people, injuring three. After launching the attack, the assailants escaped from the site of incident. Bodies of the victims were shifted to Civil Hospital Quetta for postmortem.

Speaking to the media, one health worker said that until security is provided, they will continue boycotting the campaign. They also said that the government has failed to provide security to health workers.

Police and Frontier Corps personnel arrived at the scene to investigate the incident. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack as yet.

After the attack, police conducted several raids in the Eastern Bypass area and detained several suspects in relation to the attack on the polio team.

A senior police officer who requested anonymity told Dawn that the suspects were being interrogated by police. He also stated that 700 policemen were deployed in Quetta to guard polio teams.

A polio vaccination campaign was launched amid tight security in 11 districts of Balochistan earlier this month.

During the campaign, over 238,000 children below the age of five will be administered polio vaccine. The districts where the campaign was launched include Quetta, Killa Saifullah, Killa Abdullah, Sherani, Zhob, Pishin, Loralai, Naseerabad, Jaffarabad and Lasbela.

At least 10 cases of polio were reported so far from Quetta, Killa Abdullah and Zhob districts of Balochistan this year.

Militant groups often attack polio teams as they see vaccination campaigns as a cover for espionage. There are also long running rumours about polio drops causing infertility.

Balochistan had been polio free for almost more than two years. However, the first polio case was reported from Balochistan's Killa Abdullah district in July this year.

Refusal on the part of parents remained the underlying factor behind increasing cases of polio in Balochistan.

Take a look: ‘Refusal major cause of Balochistan polio cases’

Pakistan is one of only three countries in the world where polio remains endemic, along with Afghanistan and Nigeria. Efforts to eradicate it have been seriously hampered by the deadly targeting of vaccination teams in recent years.

Also read: Polio case reported after two-and-a-half years in Balochistan

Survivor's account

Speaking to a reporter from Civil Hospital Quetta, one of the survivors said that no security arrangements were made for the polio team.

“Two men a on motorcycle stopped our car and started shooting. No security arrangements were made," she said.

"There was a policeman standing in the distance, but he didn't come to our aid. We called everyone but no one came to our rescue. One man on a motorcycle came and started our car and took us to the hospital,” she further added.