Gunmen in northwest Pakistan shot dead a female health official and her driver in attacks on several groups of polio vaccination workers, a day after five women involved in the United Nations-backed program were killed.
The frequency of attacks prompted the World Health Organization to suspend field operations and ask staff with the polio campaign to operate from their homes, Nima Abid, WHO’s polio team leader in Pakistan, said by phone from Islamabad.
“There were three attacks today in our area on polio teams and in one of the attacks a lady health official and her driver have been killed,” Nisar Ali Marwat, police chief in the northwestern town of Charsadda, said by phone.
Earlier today, a boy working for health officials was shot and wounded in Peshawar, according to Janbaz Afridi, deputy director of the local government’s immunization program. Four female polio workers were attacked by gunmen on motorbikes in Nowshera City adjacent to Peshawar, GEO television reported.
Six people working on the polio campaign have been killed this week, according to a statement by the UN Children’s Fund and the WHO released before today’s attacks. That includes four women shot dead yesterday while working with vaccination programs in areas of Karachi, the country’s financial capital, said Saleem Khan, a spokesman for Sindh province’s health minister.
The Taliban, a militant group blamed for suicide and bomb attacks across Pakistan, in June said it would oppose efforts to vaccinate people in tribal areas of North and South Waziristan to protest U.S. drone missile strikes. No group has claimed responsibility for this week’s attacks. Pakistan is one of only three countries where polio remains endemic.
Violence in Pakistan has made it challenging to combat the paralyzing disease. A WHO doctor was shot and injured in July after supervising polio vaccinations in Karachi. A local community worker involved in the campaign was shot dead in Karachi the same month, UNICEF said in July.
The number of polio cases in the country fell to 47 in 27 districts as of the end of October, compared with 154 cases in 48 districts for all of 2011, according to the UN.