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Gunmen Kill Pakistani Policeman Escorting Polio Vaccine Workers

Pakistani officials say a police officer has been killed as he was escorting a vaccination team in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa -- the latest attack against health workers taking part in a campaign to eradicate polio.

The January 12 attack in the Karak district came on the second day of a nationwide anti-polio vaccination campaign launched with the hope of eradicating the crippling disease in Pakistan by the end of the year.

Police said gunmen riding on a motorcycle shot and killed the officer in a remote village before fleeing the scene, adding that the polio workers on the team escaped unharmed.

A search for the attackers was said to be under way.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.

In the past decade, the Pakistani Taliban has killed scores of health workers and police guarding them because they believe anti-polio vaccination campaigns are intended to sterilize children. Militants also accuse the health workers of acting as spies.

Pakistan launched its latest anti-polio vaccination campaign on January 11 despite a steady rise in coronavirus cases, with the goal to vaccinate 40 million children across the country.

The previous campaign took place in August.

Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan are the only two remaining countries in the world where polio is still prevalent, after the African continent was declared free of the wild poliovirus following decades of eradication efforts.

Pakistan had hoped to eliminate polio back in 2018, when only 12 cases were reported. But in the years since there has been an uptick in new cases.

The highly infectious, water-borne pathogen usually affects children under 5, sometimes causing irreversible paralysis or even death when breathing muscles are affected.

There is no cure to the disease, but the polio vaccine protects children for life.

Elsewhere in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, a soldier was killed and two others wounded in an attack on their check post on January 12.

A search operation was launched following the attack in the Mir Ali area of North Waziristan tribal district, security officials told RFE/RL.

No one has so far claimed responsibility for the second such attack on security forces in North Waziristan since the beginning of the year.

Pakistan's seven northwestern tribal districts, located in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, have long been a militant stronghold, including for Taliban fighters.

In 2014, security forces conducted a massive operation in North Waziristan and claimed the area had been cleared of militant groups.