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Gunmen Kill Anti-Polio Volunteer in Afghanistan

Polio cases have been reported in five Afghan provinces this year.
Polio cases have been reported in five Afghan provinces this year.

Two gunmen on a motorbike shot and killed a female polio vaccination campaigner in Afghanistan on Monday and seriously wounded her granddaughter, officials said.

No group claimed responsibility for the attack but some fanatics in some parts of the world believe campaigns against the crippling disease are a plot against Muslims or an attempt to spy on militants.

The pair, a woman and her teenaged granddaughter, were eradication-campaign volunteers, going house to house in the southern city of Kandahar when they were shot, said senior provincial health official Abdul Qayum Pukhla.

"Today was the last day of campaign and as the workers were leaving a house, the gunmen opened fire on them and fled," Pukhla told Reuters.

Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan are the only two countries in the world that remain polio-endemic, according to the World Health Organization.

Polio attacks the nervous system and can cause irreversible paralysis within hours of infection. But it can be stopped with comprehensive, population-wide vaccination.

When a global eradication campaign was launched in 1988, the virus paralyzed more than 350,000 children in 125 countries annually.

Despite some violent opposition to vaccination in Afghanistan, its anti-polio campaign has had remarkable success for a nation at war.

The number of cases has fallen from 63 in 1999 to just 14 in 2013. Only eight new cases have been confirmed this year, compared with 108 in Pakistan.