3 health workers killed in Pakistan’s polio vaccination drive

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Polio workers across Pakistan have been instructed to remain vigilant after multiple attacks on vaccination teams have killed at least three people amid an ongoing push to eradicate the disease from the restive country. According to a Mail & Guardian report, the latest victim, a polio worker, was killed in south-western Balochistan province following separate attacks targeting health workers in the country’s northwest earlier this week that resulted in the deaths of two police officers.

“The attack has taken place in a remote area, and we have received reports that one female polio worker has been killed,” said Attaullah Shah, a district police chief. Security officials in Pakistan said that authorities have instructed polio teams to remain “vigilant” amid the violence.

The report says the attacks come days after more than 25,000 children were rushed to hospitals in north-western Pakistan after rumours spread that some had suffered reactions to a polio vaccine. The panic came as health workers were carrying out a three-day vaccination campaign in north-western Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, with authorities saying dozens of polio workers have been beaten or harassed in the wake of the scare.

The report says ongoing suspicion of the polio vaccine in Pakistan has been compounded recently by anti-vaccination videos circulating on social media. Islamist opposition to all forms of inoculation grew after the CIA organised a fake vaccination drive to help track down Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden in the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad. He was killed there by US forces in 2011.

“We have a communication challenge, it’s a mistrust issue,” said Baber Atta, who is helping oversee the country’s vaccination drive.

Atta said at least 260,000 health workers are involved in the vaccination campaign with some 150,000 police escorting the teams. However, the report quotes Atta as saying that hundreds of thousands of children were likely to go unvaccinated during the current drive. “There is a serious lack of trust among the parents,” he said.

The report says polio is endemic in only three countries in the world – Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria – although a relatively rare strain was also detected in Papua New Guinea at the end of last year.

Mail & Guardian report

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