Polio workers targeted in Pakistan

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Gunmen riding on a motorcycle shot and killed a police officer protecting polio workers during a UN-backed vaccination campaign in northwestern Pakistan on Tuesday, the police said.

The attack took place as dozens of polio workers — including several women — were going door to door to vaccinate children in Gullu Dheri village of Swabi district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, said senior police officer Izhar Shah. None of the polio workers the police officer was protecting was hurt in the attack, he said.


‘‘The polio workers were terrified and immediately went back to their homes after the attack,’’ Shah told The Associated Press. ‘‘The antipolio drive in that village has been suspended.’’

Some Islamic militants oppose the vaccination campaign, accusing health workers of acting as spies for the United States and saying the polio vaccine is intended to make Muslim children sterile. Pakistan is one of the few remaining places where polio is still rampant.

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In the northwest, a man wounded a polio worker with an ax.

The attacks occurred on the second day of a three-day campaign against polio that was launched by the provincial government. No one claimed responsibility for the shooting in Gullu Dheri, but suspicion fell on militants.

Suspicion of vaccination campaigns heightened considerably after it became known that a Pakistani doctor helped in the US hunt for Osama bin Laden.


The physician, Shakil Afridi, ran a hepatitis vaccination campaign on behalf of the CIA to collect blood samples from bin Laden’s family at a compound in Abbottabad in Pakistan’s northwest, where US commandos killed the Al Qaeda leader in May 2011.

The samples were intended to help the United States match the family’s DNA to verify bin Laden’s presence in the garrison city.

In December, gunmen killed nine polio workers in similar attacks across Pakistan, prompting authorities to suspend the vaccination campaign in the troubled areas. The UN also suspended its field operations in December as a result of the attacks.

They have since resumed some activities, said Michael Coleman, a spokesman with UNICEF’s polio campaign.

The latest campaign in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was launched Monday to give oral drops to children who had missed it the first time around.

Pakistan is one of only three countries where the crippling disease is endemic. The virus usually infects children living in unsanitary conditions. It attacks the nerves and can kill or paralyze.

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