Home News Pakistan Anti-Polio Drive in Pakistan Continues Despite Shootings

Anti-Polio Drive in Pakistan Continues Despite Shootings

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Download Pakistan is one of only three countries in the world where polio still exists.

Last year 30 percent of global polio cases were recorded in Pakistan, but this year the number of incidents of polio has decreased, to only 56 cases.

But in the district of Charsadda, in Khyber Pakthunkhawa province, men on motorbikes shot dead a female health worker and her driver who were on their way to vaccinate children.

In total, 8 health volunteers have been shot and killed or severely injured in separate attacks during the United Nations-backed anti-polio drive.

Mudassar Shah meets a health worker who escaped the shooting near Peshawar in Khyber Pakthunkwa Province.

35-year old Aisha Shaker is a health worker in Charsadda.

“We were walking on the roadside to a village to vaccinate children. It was 10 o’clock in the morning when suddenly a motor cycle rider came and started firing at us with a pistol. We all cried for help, I was extremely afraid and worried. I would have been killed if my friend had not pulled me into the nearby drain after the shooting. We knew about incidents in other parts of the country, but we never expected to be attacked in our own village.”

She’s happy to be alive, but she’s still afraid.

At least 8 polio volunteers have been killed and one is still in a critical condition. The youngest was 17. The aim of the attacks is to stop the UN-backed anti-polio campaign in Pakistan.

After the shootings, the United Nations pulled out all staff involved in the campaign.

But the government said immunisation was continuing in some areas without UN support, to vaccinate tens of millions of children at risk from polio.

Many volunteers refused to go on, including this 17-year-old boy who wants to remain anonymous for security reasons.

“I have been working as a polio eradication vaccinator for the last four years. But I’m extremely worried this year since so many people who vaccinate children have been killed. I don’t think I can continue this job any longer, although it’s hard because the WHO paid me to do so. The amount is small, but it helps me to continue my studies. But I think I will have to leave this job, I’m too afraid.”

But the local district health officer in Charsada, Said Akbar, promises to continue the vaccination program.

“We didn’t receive any information or threats before the incident. Women were attacked, so it’s difficult to send the same female workers for the vaccination. I will send another group of women for the program soon.”

No group has claimed responsibility, but the Taliban have issued threats against the anti-polio program.

They are accusing health workers of working as US spies and are claiming the vaccine makes children sterile.

But a spokesman for the Pakistan Taliban said that they’re not behind the shootings.

In the tribal area of Khyber Agency, the local authorities have threatened to put parents in jail if they refuse to vaccinate their children.

56-year old Naseeb Khan Afridi is a tribal elder from Bara Khyber Agency. He supports the anti-polio campaign.

“We like peace in our area. Peace and good health are important for the people. I can’t say anything about the people who refused the polio vaccination because I don’t know their reason. But no one in the tribal areas has refused the vaccination, because we have peace here now.”

President Zardari condemned the attacks and ordered an investigation into the killings.


Last Updated ( Saturday, 22 December 2012 16:49 )  

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