Posted on May 2, 2019

Polio Vaccine Worker Shot Dead Is Third Killed in Pakistan This Week

Haroon Janjua, Telegraph, April 26, 2019

Gunmen in Pakistan have shot and killed a polio worker – the third death this week linked to the country’s latest vaccination drive, government officials said.

The latest attack happened on Thursday in the south west city of Chaman, which borders Afghanistan, when two female vaccination workers were targeted as they carried out an immunisation programme.

Nasreen Bibi, 35, was killed instantly, while a 24-year-old woman – named only as Rashida – was seriously wounded.

The attackers are still at large and officials have temporarily suspended the anti-polio drive following the incident.

Rashid Razzaq, an official at the government polio emergency center in provincial capital of Quetta, said: “Two gunmen opened fire on two female polio vaccinators in Sultan Zai village, located about 100km north west of the Baluchistan provincial capital Quetta. Nasreen Bibi 35, died at the spot while Rashida 24 is seriously injured.”

This latest death is the third this week linked with Pakistan’s drive to vaccinate against the virus.

Since the programme began on April 23, health workers have been targeted in several attacks in remote areas – leaving others seriously wounded.

Two police officers, who were guarding vaccinators as they inoculated children, were shot dead in separate incidents on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Unidentified gunmen opened fire on constable Zafar Ali Jan as he chaperoned a polio vaccination team in the Buner district of northern Pakistan on Wednesday.

While an officer identified as assistant sub-inspector Mr Imran was shot dead in Bannu district on Tuesday. On the same day, another health worker was attacked with a sharp-edged weapon in Lahore, officials said. No arrests have been made.

Muhammad Arshad Khan, Buner’s district police officer, said: “An official of the special police force has been killed in Buner, a search operation from the law enforcement agencies is underway in the area.

“Jan was shot in the head and chest, he died at the spot”.

Polio teams have been given additional security amid serious threats against health workers.

Vaccinators and their guards are frequently targeted in Pakistan, where Islamist militants and hardline clerics claim government immunisation programmes are a cover for western spies and a foreign agenda to sterilise Muslim children.

“Police are investigating these cases and the security of the immunisation teams is our primary concern,” said Babar Atta, Imran Khan’s special adviser on polio. “We are committed to eradicating this crippling virus in Pakistan.”

According to the World Health Organization, Pakistan is one of the three remaining countries in the world – along with neighbouring Afghanistan and Nigeria – where polio is still categorised as an endemic viral infection.

Two new cases this week brings the total up to eight in 2019, according to End Polio Pakistan.

Polio vaccines are are eyed with suspicion in Pakistan and are often the subject of misinformation – spread by social media – that immunisation harms children.

Last week, more than 25,000 children were rushed to hospital as a result of panic in north west Pakistan, following the spread of unfounded rumours that a polio vaccine led to fainting and vomiting.

On Wednesday, police arrested Nazar Gul – along with twelve other men – over a video which went viral on social media.

The footage urged Islamic schoolchildren to fake unconsciousness, which officials said formed part of conspiracy to disrupt the polio vaccination campaign in Peshawar.

Last month, the office of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan urged the country’s telecom regulator to take action against those spreading misinformation and rumours on social media about the vaccine.

Two weeks ago, a polio worker was killed by gunmen as he persuaded the parents to vaccinate their children in the volatile Mohmand district, which borders Afghanistan.