Pakistan’s polio vaccination campaign was brought to an abrupt halt after four medical workers were killed on Tuesday.
A team of polio health workers were attacked while visiting the Qayumabad area of Karachi to administer polio drops to infants and children. A police spokesman told AFP that the assailants were waiting for the teams on motorcycles, while local media reported that at least ten gunmen were involved in the attack. According to local newspaper The News, the attackers shot the workers with nine-millimetre pistols and sped away on motorcycles.
Three vaccination workers were shot dead. Two of them died on spot, while one was pronounced dead at hospital. Two other people, including a passerby, were wounded.
It was later revealed that health workers were not escorted by police, protocol that was made mandatory after the Taliban issued death threats at vaccination workers.
A separate attack was launched on anti-polio workers who were visiting the Mansehra district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa the same day. The News reported that school teacher Mohammad Haleem was killed while administering anti-polio vaccines.
Pakistan remains one of the three countries in the world where polio is still declared an endemic disease. The World Health Organisation warned that Pekhawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, is the “largest reservoir” of the polio virus.
The attacks came one day after the Pakistani government launched a three-day nationwide program to vaccinate 7.6 million children. The Taliban and other Islamic militant groups believed that polio vaccination was a scheme carried out by westerners to sterilise Pakistani children.
The provincial polio workers’ association said the operation would be suspended across Sindh province, of which Karachi is the capital.