Gunmen in Pakistan shot dead five polio workers in separate attacks Tuesday, forcing authorities to suspend the vaccination campaign in the country's largest city, Karachi.
The five female health workers were killed in the southern port city of Karachi and the northwestern city of Peshawar. Another anti-polio worker was killed in Karachi on Monday.
Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf condemned the attacks. He said in a statement that the country had to neutralize the message of those resisting the government's efforts to immunize the population against polio.
Polio in Pakistan
- Pakistan is one of three countries that remains polio-endemic.
- Failure to eradicate polio from these remaining strongholds could result in 200,000 new global cases every year within 10 years.
- Pakistan's nationwide eradication program has existed since 1994, but instability and war hampers efforts.
- Polio is highly infectious and can cause total paralysis and even death.
- The virus mainly affects children under five years of age.
(source: World Health Organization)
Taliban militants have threatened anyone trying to immunize children against the crippling disease, claiming they are working on behalf of Western interests and that the vaccination itself is harmful.
Altaf Bosan, the Pakistani government's coordinator for the eradication of polio, said the killing was senseless.
He says the polio workers are saving children's lives, trying to save them from being crippled. I don't know the purpose of this attack and we condemn it, he says, adding that the government is committed to the immunization program and will find those responsible.
A Look at Karachi:
Karachi is Pakistan's most populous city.
Violence blamed on political, ethnic and sectarian tensions has killed nearly 2,000 people there this year.
Analysts predict violence could worsen during next year's elections as political parties battle for control of the city.
Karachi is located in one of Pakistan's high-risk areas for polio.
Provincial health minister Sagheer Ahmed says authorities suspended the three-day United Nations-backed vaccination campaign in Karachi, which started on Monday.
He says that those with specific mindsets tried to sabotage the work, and that when female health workers and vaccinators are not safe, we clearly cannot continue these campaigns.
According to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, polio has been eradicated in most countries around the world, but remains endemic in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. The polio virus had been found in sewage samples in Karachi.
At the end of a national vaccination campaign in Pakistan in October, local and international health officials said that of 32 million children targeted for immunizations, nearly one million had been left unvaccinated.
Taliban militants have condemned the polio campaign ever since a Pakistani doctor was jailed for helping the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency run a fake vaccination program aimed at locating fugitive al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden.