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Two More Deaths In Attacks On Polio Workers In Pakistan

  • RFE/RL

An antipolio campaign worker, Hilal Khan, who was shot and badly injured by unidentified gunmen, receives treatment at Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar on December 19.

An antipolio campaign worker, Hilal Khan, who was shot and badly injured by unidentified gunmen, receives treatment at Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar on December 19.

United Nations agencies have suspended a campaign against polio in Pakistan after deadly attacks on vaccination teams.

Michael Colemen, a spokesman for UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund, says that both his agency and the World Health Organization (WHO) have stopped all their field immunization campaigns.

The announcement comes after a female vaccination supervisor and her driver were shot dead in the northwestern district of Charsadda on December 19.

A male student volunteer was earlier shot and badly wounded in the nearby city of Peshawar. Volunteers were also shot at but not hit in nearby Nowshera.

Earlier this week, six health workers involved in the polio vaccination campaign were reportedly shot dead. Five of them were women.

One of those killed was in Peshawar, while the others were attacked in Karachi.

"The attacks on polio team workers are uninformed actions," Karachi resident Farooq Akhter told Reuters. "[Attackers] are unaware of the polio campaign, its benefits for children, and for the coming generation. Because whoever gets infected by polio will become handicapped for life."

The Islamist terrorist group Jundullah has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Calling from an unknown location, its commander, Ahmad Marwat, told RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal that polio vaccination was forbidden in Islam and the group would continue to target vaccination teams across Pakistan.

PHOTO GALLERY: Calls for central and regional officials to better protect polio-eradication workers have accompanied the grieving over a spate of slayings of young volunteers:

Jundullah has claimed responsibility for past sectarian violence in Pakistan.

The Taliban has also spoken out against the polio-vaccination campaign for months, claiming the campaign was a cover for spies working for the United States and that the vaccine itself caused harm to people.

Praised By Pakistani PM

The death of a female vaccination worker in Afghanistan on December 1 sparked fears that immunizers there were being targeted by the Taliban.

Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf on December 18 praised the work of the polio-vaccination teams and urged regional authorities to guarantee their safety.

The WHO and UNICEF have condemned the attackers for depriving Pakistanis of basic life-saving health care.

The WHO says it's concerned the suspension of the campaign in Pakistan will set back progress toward eradicating the disease.

WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told RFE/RL that WHO staff were involved in the vaccination program only to help local health workers provide basic health services to Pakistani children.

There were 56 cases of polio in Pakistan this year, down from 190 in 2011.

December 19 was to have been the final day of a UN-backed three-day nationwide antipolio drive, during which an estimated 5.2 million polio drops were to be administered.

Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria are the only countries where polio is still endemic.

The WHO says 198 polio cases were reported in Pakistan last year, the highest figure for more than a decade.

The virus attacks the nervous system and can cause permanent paralysis.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, and AP

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