ISLAMABAD — Police in Pakistan say unknown gunmen shot dead a female polio vaccinator and wounded another Thursday, raising the number of deaths to three in attacks against this week’s national immunization campaign.
The latest shooting incident occurred in southwestern Baluchistan province where, police said, assailants on a motorbike opened fire at a polio team in a remote district on the Afghan border. They described the conditions of the injured female health worker as “critical.”
“The women were coming back from the field after administering polio drops to children when they were shot at by two unknown men riding a motorbike,” said Rashid Razzaq, a senior official at the polio emergency center in the provincial capital of Quetta. He told VOA that one victim died instantly while the other received “serious” bullet injuries and is undergoing treatment in a Quetta hospital.
Razzaq confirmed authorities have temporarily suspended the vaccination campaign in Chaman.
Other attacks took place in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, also bordering Afghanistan, where gunmen shot dead two police offices escorting polio vaccinators.
Additionally, authorities also arrested 10 men in the provincial capital Peshawar for spreading unfounded rumors through fake social media videos that a polio vaccine had led to fainting and vomiting.
One of the detainees, identified as school teacher Nazar Muhammad, could be seen in the scaremongering Twitter videos instructing his students to faint and pretend to be sick from the oral polio vaccine (OPV).
The videos quickly went viral, sparking widespread protests in parts of Peshawar, with angry mobs destroying a local health unit. Clerics in mosques used loudspeakers to warn parents against having their children vaccinated.
The scare prompted panicked families to rush their children to hospitals, where doctors examined more than 25,000 and concluded that none had suffered an adverse reaction after receiving the vaccine drops.
Islamic clerics and residents in parts of the religiously conservative Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan have long been suspicious of the polio vaccine, claiming it is a Western plot to harm or sterilize Muslim children.
Militants linked to outlawed extremist groups also have taken responsibility for attacks against anti-polio teams in Pakistan, accusing them of working as government spies. The suspicions and attacks have hampered Islamabad’s efforts to eradicate the crippling polio disease from the country, officials admit.
The violence against workers associated with polio immunization efforts have in recent years killed dozens of people in Pakistan, one of three countries in the world — along with Afghanistan and Nigeria — where wild polio virus is still endemic. Nigeria has not reported any new cases for two consecutive years.