Fresh wave of attacks against polio vaccinators in Pakistan

Thursday, December 20, 2012 - 7:00am

Health workers administering polio vaccinations came under fresh attack in Pakistan on Wednesday, a troubling development in a nation that remains one of three in the world where the disease has yet to be eradicated.

Three workers were killed in separate attacks, a day after five others died in similar circumstances.

All of them were part of a massive vaccination campaign nationwide.

The attacks prompted authorities to suspend the campaign throughout the country.

In Wednesday's attacks:

-- Two men opened fire on an 18-year-old worker as he was vaccinating children on the outskirts of the northwestern city of Peshawar. The worker died of bullet wounds to the head, said Dr. Janbaz Afridi, the provincial director of the polio campaign.

-- Gunmen opened fire on a car carrying a vaccination campaign supervisor and her driver in Charsadda -- killing them both.

-- Also in Charsadda, two female workers narrowly escaped when some men began shooting at them.

-- Three other female workers also escaped unhurt when they were shot at in Nowshera district.

All the attacks Wednesday took place in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a province rife with Islamic extremists.

On Tuesday, five workers were killed: four in Karachi; and a 14-year-old volunteer in Peshawar as she and her sister were leaving a house after administering vaccines.

Pakistanis have viewed polio vaccination campaigns with suspicion after the CIA's use of a fake vaccination program last year to collect DNA samples from residents of Osama bin Laden's compound to verify the al Qaeda leader's presence there.

Bin Laden was killed by U.S. forces in May 2011.

In June, a Taliban commander in northwest Pakistan announced a ban on polio vaccines for children in the region as long as the United States continues its campaign of drone strikes in the region, the Taliban said.

CNN was not able to reach the Taliban for comment regarding the latest attacks.

Polio, a highly infectious viral disease that can cause permanent paralysis in a matter of hours, has been eradicated around the world except for three countries where it is endemic: Pakistan, Nigeria and Afghanistan.

After the number of cases spiked sharply last year, Pakistan stepped up its eradication efforts. The numbers fell from 173 last year to 53 this year, according to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

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