PESHAWAR / CHARSADDA: Two polio workers were killed and another was injured in five gun attacks on vaccination teams in Charsadda, Peshawar and Nowshera districts on Wednesday.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government suspended the vaccination work as a mark of respect for the dead and injured workers.
A woman vaccination supervisor and a driver were shot dead in the attack in Tarkha area of Shabqadar tehsil in Charsadda district.
Minutes earlier, a volunteer was injured in an attack in Peshawar’s Larama area. The volunteer, Hilal Ahmed, is in critical condition in the Lady Reading Hospital.
The UN’s spokesman in Pakistan, Michael Coleman, announced in Islamabad that all staff involved in the campaign had been taken off the streets.
The federal government said immunisation was continuing in some areas without UN support, although, according to Reuters, many workers refused to go out.
Women health workers held protests in Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad and some other cities and towns.
“We go out and risk our lives to save other people’s children from being permanently handicapped, but for what? So that our own children become orphans?” health worker Ambreen Bibi said at a protest in the federal capital.
The government was caught off guard by the violence and said it had not expected attacks in areas far from Taliban strongholds and they would have to change the health campaign strategy.
“We didn’t expect such attacks in Karachi,” Human Rights Minister Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, who oversees the anti-polio campaign, said.
“We are providing security to polio vaccination teams in remote regions where the threats are more pronounced.”
There have been several attacks during this week’s campaign in Karachi.
In Peshawar, area in charge of the vaccination teams, Fida Mohammad, quoting witnesses, told reporters that two bearded men on a motorcycle shot 20-year-old Hilal of Wahid Garhi village in the head with a pistol when he was marking the door of a house. A woman worker accompanying him had gone inside the house to administer drops to children.
The injured volunteer’s uncle Mohammad Iqbal told Dawn that he had passed matriculation and had been associated with vaccination teams for the past eight months to financially support his family. His father is a taxi driver.
According to police, suspected militants chased vaccinators and members of two teams survived attacks in Charsadda district.
In one case, the workers saved their lives by jumping into a canal, officials said.
According to sources, a team came under fire in Behram area of Nowshera but the vaccinators escaped unharmed.
In Charsadda, a technician of the Extended Programme on Immunisation, Arshed, was attacked with a Kalashnikov, but he escaped unharmed.
WORKERS REACT: Reacting to the spate of attacks on polio vaccination teams, lady health workers’ leaders Ayesha Hassan and Asmat Ara said the government had failed to protect the volunteers and they could not run the anti-polio campaign in the prevailing situation.
“We will boycott the next round of vaccination because life is dear to all and the government has failed to protect us,” Ms Hassan said.
The district coordination officer of Peshawar said the current three-day campaign had been completed and the next round would be launched with a new strategy to protect workers.
He said about 4,000 teams had to visit localities in Peshawar and it was impossible to provide security to all of them. However, efforts would be made to overcome the problem, he added.
A woman member of a vaccination team had been shot dead in Mathra, near Peshawar, on Tuesday.