QUETTA: Four health workers, including three women, were killed and three others injured in an attack on a vehicle of a polio vaccination team near the Eastern Bypass here on Wednesday.

The team was going to take part in an emergency vaccination campaign being carried out in 18 union councils of Quetta district when they were attacked by men on motorcycles. All the injured health workers were women.

“They stopped our vehicle and opened fire on us with automatic weapons after identifying us as a polio vaccination team,” 24-year-old Sumira Bibi, who was injured in the incident, told reporters.

The health department suspended the vaccination campaign in the district after the attack.

“The emergency immunisation campaign has been suspended for the time being,” Home Secretary Akbar Hussain Durrani told Dawn, adding that the victims were going to participate in the weeklong campaign launched by the Balochistan government with the collaboration of the United Nations Children’s Fund and the World Health Organisation.

However, Balochistan Health Minister Rehmat Saleh Baloch said at a press conference that the campaign would resume on Thursday. “We will not give in to elements involved in killing innocent health workers,” he said.

According to sources, the driver saved his life by running away when armed men stopped the vehicle in Mengalabad.

Since the polio team had no security escort, the assai­lants managed to escape.

“Two women health workers died on the spot of multiple bullet injuries on their head and chest,” police said. Another woman and a man died in hospital.

Police and Frontier Corps personnel took the bodies and injured to the Civil Hospital. “All of them suffered multiple bullet injuries,” hospital sources said, adding that the three injured women were taken to the Combined Military Hospital after initial treatment.

Sumira Bibi, the injured health worker, said that at least two policemen were present nearby when the attack took place, but they did not come to the rescue of the victims.

The attackers first fired at the vehicle from the front and then from the rear after confirming that it was a polio vaccination team, she said.

The victims included two sisters and the wife of a health worker. A young girl was also in the vehicle but she survived.

Those killed were identified as sisters Hameeda and Sania Bangulzai, Hameeda Khawajakhel and Ejaz Ahmed, while Salma Ejaz, Sumira and Farida Bibi were injured.

Health Minister Rehmat Baloch and Home Minister Sarfaraz Ahmed Bugti said the anti-polio campaign would not be stopped. “The campaign in Quetta was suspended just for one day,” they said, adding that stringent security would be provided to the volunteers and health department workers administering the vaccine.

“The government will not compromise on the anti-polio campaign and will carry it on for the future of our children,” Mr Baloch said.

He, however, clarified that the victims were health workers participating in the emergency campaign launched on Monday, and not polio workers.

The Chief Minister’s Finance Adviser Mir Khalid Langove said the provincial government would give compensation to the victims.

The families of the four deceased workers will get Rs1 million each and the injured Rs200,000.

The home minister said a search operation had been launched to trace the killers and two teams, headed by the city police chief and the divisional health director, had been formed to investigate the incident and submit reports within 24 hours.

The health minister said various groups were involved in attacks on polio workers.

AFP adds: The seven-member vaccination team’s injured leader, who wished to be identified by her first name ‘Rubi’, said that after the attackers fled, “I was bleeding and feeling so weak but I struggled to get down and saw a policeman nearby. I screamed for help, but he walked away. I kept on screaming, begging for help but vehicles wouldn’t stop.”

A motorcycle rider finally came to their aid.

Published in Dawn, November 27th , 2014

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