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Pakistani Polio-Vaccination Campaign Resumes Under Tight Security

A Pakistani policeman stands guard as a polio-vaccination worker marks a child after immunization with antipolio drops in Lahore on December 21.
ISLAMABAD -- Authorities in a district in Pakistan's troubled northwest have resumed a polio-vaccination campaign that had been halted after a wave of attacks last month on health workers involved in the program.

The UN-backed vaccination campaign is now under way in the Charsadda district of the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.

Charsadda district's health department chief, Dr. Fazle Akbar, told RFE/RL on January 3 that the vaccination campaign was launched in five areas of the district believed to be "high-risk" polio zones.

"A total of 82 teams are in the field," Akbar said. "The target is 8,000 to 9,000 children in the areas."

A police officer in Charsadda told RFE/RL that all polio teams were provided security protection.

"Of course, our security personnel are accompanying the polio teams and our officers are also patrolling," the officer said. "We have advised the police to provide full security to ensure the success of the polio campaign."

Pakistan, along with Afghanistan and Nigeria, are the only countries in the world where polio remains endemic.

Workers Killed

UN agencies suspended the polio-vaccination campaign in December after nine health workers involved in the campaign were shot dead.

The killings occurred in the southern port city of Karachi and in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. Five of those killed were women.

Earlier this week, gunmen ambushed and shot dead six Pakistani women aid workers and a male doctor in Swabi district, northwest of the capital, Islamabad.

Those killings were also believed to be linked to the recent killings of polio campaigners.

The Taliban has said it did not carry out the attacks on the polio-vaccination workers.

But Taliban leaders have repeatedly denounced the vaccination program as harmful to the people and a plot by spies working for the United States.

Polio is a an infectious disease that affects the nervous system and can cause permanent paralysis.

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