Five woman polio workers shot dead
* Four women killed in less than an hour in coordinated attacks in Pashtun-dominated areas of Karachi
* Polio vaccination drive suspended
* Another woman killed in Peshawar
By Danish Rafique
KARACHI: In a serious blow to Pakistan’s polio eradication efforts, five polio workers, all of them women, were shot dead in Karachi and Peshawar on Tuesday.
Gunmen attacked three polio prevention teams in separate vicinities of Karachi and killed four female workers and injured two male staffers. Following the attacks on the vaccination workers, the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) anti-polio campaign has been stopped in the metropolis. The killings in Karachi took place in parts of the city dominated by Pashtuns, senior police officer Shahid Hayat said. Four women were killed in less than an hour in seemingly coordinated attacks in Karachi on Tuesday, a day after a man working on a local government- WHO project was also shot dead in the city, police said.
Hayat blamed “militants who issued a fatwa against polio vaccination in the past” for the Karachi killings. He said one polio vaccination team was attacked in the eastern Karachi neighbourhood of Gulshan-e-Buner. “They were fired upon by unidentified gunmen who rode away on motorcycles. Two women members suffered multiple gunshots and died on the spot,” he said. Two women and a man were wounded in two separate incidents in the city’s west, Hayat said, adding that all of the victims were part of WHO-supervised polio vaccination teams.
In a Peshawar suburb, two attackers on a motorbike fired on two sisters working on polio vaccination, killing one, senior police official Javed Khan told AFP. In Waziristan, a hub for militants, the Taliban ban – to protest against US drone strikes and because they allege that the polio campaign is a cover for espionage – risks the health of 240,000 children, officials say. Launching the polio drive on Monday, Pakistani authorities threatened to punish tribesmen who refuse to allow their children to be inoculated.
WHO, a partner in government efforts to eradicate the disease, suspended vaccination activities in part of Pakistan’s largest city in July after a spate of shootings. A UN doctor from Ghana working on polio eradication and his driver were shot in Karachi and three days later a local community worker who was part of the same campaign was shot dead in the same area. The killing of a female polio worker in Peshawar prompted the WHO to recommend stopping the campaign in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Police said that preliminary investigation revealed that that one group was behind all the killings in Karachi. Police have also conducted an operation in Gulshan-e-Bunair area of Landhi and apprehended over two dozen suspects along with weapons and shifted them to undisclosed location for further investigation. Following the attacks, Sindh Health Secretary Dr Sageer Ahmed issued a statement that the anti-polio drive had been halted in the city due to law in order situation.