KARACHI - Gunmen killed three health workers taking part in a polio vaccination drive in Karachi on Tuesday, prompting the provincial polio workers’ association to declare a halt to operations across Sindh province.
Armed men also opened fire at a polio team in Oghi town of Mansehra killing one worker. In Panjgur district of Balochistan, miscreants snatched a car from the polio team. Due to security concerns, polio vaccination drive has also been postponed in Chitral, Haripur, Dera Ismail Khan and Multan.
Pakistan is one of only three countries in the world where polio remains endemic, along with Afghanistan and Nigeria. Efforts to eradicate it have been seriously hampered by the deadly targeting of vaccination teams in recent years. The Tuesday’s attacks came just days after the World Health Organisation warned that Pakistan’s northwestern city of Peshawar was the world’s “largest reservoir” of the polio virus.
In the country’s biggest city Karachi, men on motorbikes opened fire on two polio teams in the Qayyumabad neighbourhood. “The attackers wearing helmets were waiting for the teams on motorcycles,” a police spokesman said. Doctor Seemi Jamali, the head of the government-run Jinnah Hospital, confirmed that three bodies and two wounded people were taken to her hospital.
Anita, 32, wife of Zafar and Akbari, wife of Jumman, were killed at Lane Number 7. Another team working in the adjacent Lane Number 8 was also fired upon almost at the same time resulting in injuries to Fahad Khalil, 24, Salma and a passerby Ali Asghar. Fahad succumbed to his injures on way to hospital. Eyewitnesses said the attackers managed to flee the area without any resistance. Police said that teh attacked teams had started work without prior notice therefore police guards were not accompanying them while nine other teams were provided police security.
After the attacks the campaign was immediately postponed in Karachi’s East Zone. And, the authorities directed for revamping the security plan for the polio vaccination teams in the province, especially in Karachi. Sindh Chief Secretary Sajjad Saleem Hotiana issued directives to the Home Department during a meeting at his office.
But Sindh Lady Health Workers Association chairperson Khairun Nissa said they would stop work in the whole province. “We will not carry out the campaign from now on,” she told reporters outside Jinnah Hospital. “We have lost lives of our workers today and that will happen again and again... Our workers will not put their lives in danger for a mere Rs250 (daily wages),” she said.
Militant groups see vaccination campaigns as a cover for espionage, and there are also long-running rumours about polio drops causing infertility. According to the World Health Organisation, Pakistan recorded 91 cases of polio last year compared with 58 in 2012. Last week the country’s neighbour and great rival India celebrated three years since its last polio case.
Staff Reporter from Islamabad adds: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has vowed to make Pakistan a completely polio-free country.
In a statement‚ he said 95 per cent of the country has already been made polio free but still a lot more is needed to be done. The prime minister expressed pleasure that the disease has been controlled in conflict-hit areas of North Waziristan and Khyber Agency despite challenges.
In a statement, former President Asif Ali Zardari strongly condemned the attack on Tuesday morning on polio team in which three workers, including two women, were gunned down.
Zardari, in a statement, said that the cowardly attack on innocent polio workers displayed the intensions of terrorists who want to deprive our next generation of health and education.
He said that attack on polio workers amounted to depriving children from protection against the crippling disease. The same terrorists had blown up schools in the past and for some time they are targeting polio workers. He urged the nation for unity against these enemies of our country.
Former President also called for the immediate arrest and punishment to the culprits according to law and to take all measures to ensure safety of polio workers in future. Zardari paid tributes to polio workers and said they were national heroes and heroines.
He also prayed to Allah for grant of eternal peace to the departed souls and early recovery of injured. He also expressed sympathy to the bereaved families.