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Pakistani polio workers killed

November 26, 2014

Polio workers in Pakistan have demanded greater security before returning to work after gunmen murdered four vaccination team members. Pakistan is one of three countries where polio remains endemic.

Impfungen gegen Kinderlähmung in Pakistan
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Gunmen riding a motorbike killed four polio vaccination workers on the outskirts of Baluchistan state's capital Quetta on Wednesday, prompting a workers' representative to demand consistent security.

The president of the Pakistani state's polio workers union, Haleem Shah, said thousands of his colleagues were refusing to finish the campaign to vaccinate 300,000 children in eight districts, including Quetta.

"We are in contact with the government and we have demanded that we won't participate in the campaign until we are provided with security," Shah told the news agency AFP.

"The government provides security for one day and if nothing bad happens then they take the security back," he added.

Since December 2012, more than 30 polio vaccinators have been killed in Pakistan, along with nearly 30 police and security personnel guarding them.

Team's minivan targeted

Police said two unknown gunmen targeted the team's minivan, killing four workers, including three women, who were trying to halt the regional spread of the contagious virus that can paralyze and kill victims.

Provincial Home Secretary Akbar Durrani ordered health authorities to halt the vaccination series until security could be ensured.

Pakistan's federal information minister Pervez Rashid said militants would no succeed with their "nefarious designs."

Conspiracy theories

In the past, militants have fueled conspiracy theories, claiming that polio vaccination work was a cover for espionage or a Western conspiracy to sterilize Muslims.

Opposition grew after the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) orchestrated a fake vaccination campaign to trace the al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. He was shot dead by a US commando team while hiding in Pakistan in 2011.

Pakistan is facing a polio outbreak that has already infected 246 people this year - contrary to the World Health Organization's (WHO's) aim of eradicating the disease.

Among the new cases detected, 136 are in Pakistan's troubled northwestern tribal regions that border Afghanistan and are the stronghold of Taliban and al-Qaeda militants.

Earlier this year, the WHO asked Pakistan to impose mandatory vaccinations on travelers leaving the country.

Ipj/jr (AP, dpa, AFP)