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Security personnel gather at the site of an attack on a polio vaccination team in Chaman on Thursday.—AFP
Security personnel gather at the site of an attack on a polio vaccination team in Chaman on Thursday.—AFP

QUETTA: Amid a recent upsurge in attacks on efforts to protect children from the crippling disease, a woman polio worker was killed and another injured in an attack in the Chaman area on Thursday, increasing the toll in such incidents this month in different parts of the country to four.

In Rawalpindi, a polio team was thrashed and barred from vaccinating children in the Pirwadhai area by six members of a family, which led to the registration of a criminal case against them on Wednesday.

Thursday’s firing incident took place in the Killi Sultanzai area of Daman Miralizai Union Council, near the Afghan border. The polio team was neither accompanied by any security guard nor was provided official transport.

The polio vaccination campaign had been temporarily suspended in Qila Abdullah district, official sources said. It started on Monday and concluded in 30 districts of Balochistan on Wednesday. However, the campaign had been planned for five days in Quetta, Qila Abdullah and Pishin districts as those were high-risk areas, an official of the Emergency Operation Centre for polio said.

Fourth person associated with campaign against crippling disease has been targeted in April; drive suspended in Qila Abdullah

Officials said the two female community health workers had gone to the Killi Sultanzai area on the outskirts of Chaman to administer polio drops to children under the age of five years. They were returning to Chaman when two men riding a motorcycle opened fire on them.

The duo was injured and shifted to hospital by Levies Force, but one of them, Nasreen Awan, died before reaching hospital.

Assistant Commissioner of Chaman Syed Sami Agha said the polio workers were waiting for a rickshaw on the road leading to Chaman when they came under attack.

The injured vaccinator after initial treatment was referred to Trauma Centre in the Quetta Civil Hospital.

The deputy commissioner of Qila Abdullah claimed that 11 personnel of Levies Force had been deployed with each polio team to provide them protection.

However, the local polio campaign in-charge Lalak Achakzai said that the two polio workers had gone to Killi Sultanzai without security guards.

A senior official of the district administration said that an inquiry had been ordered in the absence of Levies personnel deputed to guard the polio workers in the area.

Assistant Commissioner of Chaman Sami Agha said that a heavy contingent of Levies Force and Frontier Corps had cordoned off the area and mounted search for the attackers.

Chief Minister of Balochistan Jam Kamal Khan has condemned the targeted attack on the polio workers and sought a report on the incident.

“Attacking women is against Islamic and tribal values,” the CM said. “We will defeat those trying to hinder the ongoing anti-polio campaign, and ensure our children’s healthy future.”

Polio team thrashed

After the Rawalpindi incident, police registered an FIR on the complaint of sub-inspector Yasir Mehmood who had escorted the polio team visiting Bangash Colony. He said that when the team visited Sabz Ali Khan’s house in Zia-ul-Haq colony, the family members refused to allow them to administer polio drops to their children.

He said that the family members misbehaved with the polio workers, used abusive language and beat up the team.

A senior official of health department told Dawn that polio teams faced difficulties in those areas which were dominated by residents originally hailing from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The latest attack targeting an immunisation team comes days after anti-polio vaccination panic spread across Peshawar and other parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa amid reports that some 75 students at a school in Peshawar’s Badhber area had been admitted to a hospital with complaints of nausea and headaches after being vaccinated.

Following the panic, a police officer deployed at a Bannu basic health unit for security of immunisation workers was gunned down by unidentified assailants while on his way to work on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, a police constable escorting a polio team was shot dead in the Elai union council of KP Buner district.

On April 8, a union council-based polio officer associated with the World Health Organisation was shot dead in Ghazi Baig area of Haleemzai tehsil in Mohmand tribal district.

AFP adds: “We have a communication challenge, it’s a mistrust issue,” said Babar Atta, who is helping oversee the country’s vaccination drive, while referring to the panic over polio vaccination.

He said that hundreds of thousands of children were likely to go unvaccinated.

“There is a serious lack of trust among the parents,” he said.

Mohammad Asghar from Rawalpindi also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, April 26th, 2019