Polio health workers gunned down in Nigeria | Africa | DW | 08.02.2013
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Polio health workers gunned down in Nigeria

Gunmen in Nigeria have shot dead several health workers linked to polio vaccination efforts. Regional Muslim leaders have been known to reject the preventative measure as a Western conspiracy to harm their health.

At least nine health workers were killed in two separate drive-by shootings in the northern city of Kano on Friday, according to a police spokesperson.

"Gunmen opened fire on a health center in the Hotoro district killing seven, while an attack on Zaria Road area of the city claimed two lives," police spokesman Magaji Musa told the news agency Reuters.

"They were working for the state government giving out polio vaccinations," Musa added.

It was unclear from the initial reports whether the victims had been administering vaccinations on site or were preparing to travel to a different location to do so. There was no indication that any patients had been present during the attack.

No group claimed responsibility for the shootings.

Attempts to eradicate polio from Nigeria have repeatedly met opposition predominantly from local Muslim leaders. In 2003, regional politicians spread the view that the vaccine could cause infertility.

More recently, the Islamist sect Boko Haram, which has carried out numerous deadly attacks on its political opponents, has spoken out against the preventative measure.

Friday's shooting was not the first of its kind. At least 16 health workers participating in a polio vaccination campaign in Pakistan were shot dead during December and January.

The virus, poliomyelitis, attacks the nervous system and can cause irreversible paralysis within hours of infection. Thanks to international efforts to deliver the vaccine to people worldwide, the number of polio cases has dropped by 99 percent since 1988, according to the World Health Organization, with only 650 cases reported in 2011.

Along with Pakistan and Afghanistan, Nigeria is still considered to have endemic polio, according to the World Health Organization.

kms/ccp (AFP, Reuters)