WHO, UNICEF to continue anti-polio drive in Pakistan

The World Health Organisation and UNICEF Tuesday said they would continue their anti-polio drive in Pakistan.

Islamabad: The World Health Organisation and UNICEF Tuesday said they would continue their anti-polio drive in Pakistan despite the killing of six vaccinators by gunmen but urged the government to do its "utmost to protect health workers".
"We remain committed to supporting the government of Pakistan and the people of Pakistan in their efforts to rid the country of polio and other diseases," said a joint statement issued this evening by WHO and UNICEF in the wake of the killing of the six vaccinators in Karachi and Peshawar.

"Such attacks deprive Pakistan`s most vulnerable populations, especially children of basic life-saving health interventions. We call on the leaders of the affected communities and everyone concerned to do their utmost to protect health workers and create a secure environment so that we can meet the health needs of the children of Pakistan," the statement said.

Gunmen shot and killed four women vaccinators in three separate attacks in the southern port city of Karachi. A fifth volunteer, a 14-year-old girl, was shot and killed in the northwestern city of Peshawar. Another male volunteer was gunned down in Karachi last night, taking the total number of polio field workers killed since yesterday to six.

No group claimed responsibility for the attacks but the banned Pakistani Taliban have threatened polio vaccinators in the past.

Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf condemned the attacks while chairing a meeting of the Polio Task Force this afternoon and reiterated his government`s resolve to rid Pakistan of the crippling disease.

He ordered the Interior Ministry to coordinate with polio eradication authorities to provide fool-proof security to vaccination teams.

WHO and UNICEF said they joined the government and the provinces of Sindh and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa in condemning the multiple attacks that killed six workers.

"Those killed were among thousands who work selflessly across Pakistan to eradicate polio," the statement said.

Federal and provincial authorities had temporarily suspended the vaccination campaign due to concerns over the safety of health workers after the attacks.

WHO and UNICEF pointed out that polio remains endemic only in Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan.