ucanews.com reporter, Karachi
Updated: November 26, 2014 07:07 PM GMT
An infant is given a polio vaccination in Pakistan (Photo by Kamila Hyat/IRIN)
Four polio vaccination workers, three of them women, were shot dead in Pakistan’s insurgency-stricken Balochistan province on Wednesday.
The shootings marked another setback for the country’s precarious attempts to tackle the preventable disease.
Wednesday's deadly attack occurred in the Eastern Bypass area on the outskirts of Quetta, the capital city of Balochistan. It came just two days after a teenage polio worker was shot in the head in Charsadda town of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
“Two gunmen riding a motorbike opened fire on a minivan carrying seven health workers,” Syed Imtiaz Shah, chief of city police, told journalists.
Provincial Home Secretary Akbar Hussain Durrani told reporters that Wednesday had been the final day of an anti-polio campaign in the province.
One health worker who survived the attack told journalists at a local hospital that the gunmen appeared in front of the minivan and unleashed a burst of indiscriminate gunfire. Then the assailants walked to the rear of the vehicle and opened fire again, killing four and injuring two.
“Two lady health workers who were real sisters died instantly and two others, including a husband and wife, succumbed to injuries on the way to the hospital,” said the woman, who identified herself as Rubi.
Rubi said she was shot multiple times. She and other survivors screamed for help but no police came to help, she said.
No one has claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s attack. But Taliban militants have been behind a series of violent attacks in the country’s northwest region and in Karachi, and have been known to target polio vaccinators.
For many years, extremists have spread conspiracy theories that polio vaccinations are used by Western countries to suppress Muslim population growth. Some militant groups say health workers are spies for the United States and that the vaccine will make children sterile.
Such rumors have been fueled in part by the 2011 killing of former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Covert operatives used a vaccination program to gather information that led to bin Laden’s killing. Since then, there has been a surge in violent attacks on health workers.
Pakistan is one of only three countries in the world where polio remains endemic. This year, there have been 306 recorded cases of polio globally, according to the World Health Organization. Pakistan is home to at least 260 of them.
In a press statement, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan condemned the attack on anti-polio workers in Quetta.
“Such terrorist acts cannot hinder realizing the dream of a polio-free Pakistan,” he said.
The federal government is making efforts to provide proper security to anti-polio workers and it would extend all help to the provincial governments, he claimed.
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