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Six polio workers shot dead in Pakistan

Published Dec 19, 2012 03:07am


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Family members of Nasima Bibi, a female worker of an anti-polio drive campaign who was shot by gunmen, mourn at a hospital morgue in Karachi December 18, 2012. — Photo by Reuters

KARACHI: Gunmen in Pakistan have killed six health workers during a nationwide polio vaccination drive, officials said on Tuesday.

Video: Polio in Pakistan: Rejecting,reforming and reasoning

Four women were killed in less than an hour in seemingly coordinated attacks in Karachi on Tuesday, a day after a man working on a local government-World Health Organisation (WHO) project was also shot dead in the city, police said.

A sixth worker, also a woman, was killed on Tuesday in the northwestern city of Peshawar, which lies close to the tribal areas.

Sagheer Ahmed, the health minister for Sindh province said he had ordered a halt to the anti-polio drive in the city following the attacks, condemned by the WHO and Unicef.

Pakistan is one of only three countries where polio remains endemic, along with Afghanistan and Nigeria, but efforts to tackle the highly infectious crippling disease have been hampered over the years by local suspicion.

The Taliban banned immunisations in the tribal region of Waziristan, condemning the campaign as a cover for espionage after the jailing of a doctor who helped the CIA find Osama bin Laden using a hepatitis vaccination programme.

Senior police officer Shahid Hayat blamed “militants who issued a fatwa against polio vaccination in the past” for the Karachi killings.

He said one polio vaccination team was attacked in the eastern Karachi neighbourhood of Gulshan-e-Buner.

“They were fired upon by unidentified gunmen who rode away on motorcycles.

Two women members suffered multiple gunshots and died on the spot,” he said.

Two women and a man were wounded in two separate incidents in the city's west, Hayat said, adding that all of the victims were part of WHO-supervised polio vaccination teams.

The two women died of their injuries.

In a Peshawar suburb, two attackers on a motorbike fired on two sisters working on vaccination, killing one, senior police official Javed Khan told AFP.

A joint WHO-Unicef statement said such attacks “deprive Pakistan's most vulnerable populations — especially children — of basic life-saving health interventions”.

“We call on the leaders of the affected communities and everyone concerned to do their utmost to protect health workers and create a secure environment so that we can meet the health needs of the children of Pakistan,” it added.

UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said UN chief Ban Ki-moon condemned the “senseless and inexcusable attack on health workers” and was to meet Pakistan's UN ambassador Masood Khan on Tuesday over the issue.

US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland also condemned the attacks, saying: “Any attack on health workers anywhere in the world is unacceptable.”

In Waziristan, the Taliban ban — to protest against US drone strikes and because they allege that the polio campaign is a cover for espionage — risks the health of 240,000 children, officials say.

Launching the polio drive on Monday, Pakistani authorities threatened to punish tribesmen who refuse to allow their children to be inoculated.

Siraj Ahmad Khan, the top official in North Waziristan tribal area, said the punishments would include a ban on monthly stipends to tribal elders, development work, civil service recruitment and issuing ID cards and passports.

Tuesday's killings in Karachi took place in parts of the city dominated by Pashtuns, Hayat said. Pashtuns are the dominant ethnic group in northwest Pakistan and have a sizeable migrant population in Karachi.

WHO, a partner in government efforts to eradicate the disease, suspended vaccination activities in part of Pakistan's largest city in July after a spate of shootings.

A UN doctor from Ghana working on polio eradication and his driver were shot in Karachi and three days later a local community worker who was part of the same campaign was shot dead in the same area.


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Comments (8) Closed

Haider Dec 19, 2012 08:42am
The jaahil molvis and jihadis who have issued the vaccination-banning fatwas must be condemned and drastic action must be taken by the government to diffuse the negative image surrounding the anti-polio campaign and to provide protection to the health workers. At the same time, I think that there should also be a thorough condemnation of the CIA whose activities have exposed almost every vaccination campaign in Pakistan to grave danger. One can easily note that since the OBL raid, violent attacks on anti-polio health workers have increased dramatically, which, I think, is primarily because of the fact that a similar vaccination campaign was used as a garb to track down OBL and his family by the CIA. Since then all vaccination campaigns are being seen by the militants as foreign espionage mechanisms. The US State Department should be honest enough to share the blame instead of merely condemning these extremely tragic incidents. All prayers for the brave souls who sacrificed their lives for this noble cause and their families.
Ali Dec 19, 2012 05:55am
What Pakistanis are facing today are self created Frankenstein's monsters.
Kazmis Dec 19, 2012 04:15am
It is really sad...but at least a strong voice is there to stop this vaccination which is suspected for Mind control and not for Polio.
dv1936 Dec 19, 2012 03:24am
Death of health workers is half the story, no doubt it is very sad and deplorable. The other half of the story is chilling. Think of hundreds or rather thousands of children who life is at risk for not getting the polio shots. Please do NOT stop this very useful necessity for children safety and good health as they grow.
Junaid Dec 19, 2012 03:55am
Sad. Very unfortunate. Condolences to the families of the deceased. They died while on a noble mission. Plead the law agencies to find and arrest the perpetrators of this heinous crime and bring them to justice.
Guru Dec 19, 2012 03:35am
What a lowlife, these Taliban are? Polio drops will make kids impotent - I have 2 kids & I have had polio drops, while young. And I have given my kids Polio drops & nothing will happen to them. Do you need better proof? Such pathetic groups & societies which extend support to these groups, deserve to fade.
Puneet Dec 19, 2012 03:33am
Dont know how much Pakistani
Spud Dec 19, 2012 03:52am
This is too terrible for words. my heart goes to the partners and other dependents of these anti-polio workers. This is what muslims are doing to their own people who were really trying to help people. Those responsible for this reprehensible act should be hanged and their remains buried where their familes are unable to pay respects. They should be told of what is going to happen before they are hung.