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Polio workers killed in Pakistan

Six healthworkers who were part of a polio immunization drive have been shot dead inside 24 hours in Pakistan. The murders in Karachi and Peshawar have prompted authorities to suspend the polio campaign there.

Pakistani gunmen killed five health workers who were part of a polio campaign on Tuesday, a day after a man working on the same project was also shot, prompting Islamabad to halt its polio immunization campaign, according to officials.

"The health minister has ordered the suspension of the anti-polio campaign throughout Sindh following the killings," senior government official Saleem Khan said.

"A decision to restore the immunization drive will be taken after assessing the (security) situation," he added.

Gunmen shot dead four of the health workers as they were administering the oral polio vaccine in Karachi, Pakistan's largest city and the capital of Sindh province, a police spokesman told the DPA news agency. Two male workers also sustained injuries in the attack. Another female vaccinator was killed in the northwestern city of Peshawar, while a man working with the World Health Organization was killed in Karachi on Monday..

The tragedy came after a gunman shot and killed a male volunteer in Karachi for the same polio campaign as he travelled home late on Monday.

No organization or individual claimed responsibility for the incident.

Pakistan's polio dilemma

Pakistan is one of only three countries in the world where polio is still endemic. The other two are Afghanistan and Nigeria.

The polio vaccination program in Pakistan has been hampered by stigma and rumors that immunization causes infertility. The fact that a Pakistani doctor used the polio campaign as his cover when helping the CIA to track down al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad last year has also had repercussions - prompting the Taliban to brand the campaign a cover for espionage.

The Taliban has also banned the anti-polio campaign in Waziristan, in northwestern Pakistan. Officials say that the ban jeopardizes the health of around 240,000 children.

sej/rc (AFP, dpa)