Gunmen shot dead a female health worker and injured her colleague on the edge of Peshawar on Tuesday in the latest assault on polio field workers in the country.
Two attackers on a motorcycle opened fire on polio vaccinators Sumbal and Sharafata in Kaga Wala village in the jurisdiction of Badhaber police station. Sharafata died on the spot while her colleague was seriously injured. Both were rushed to the Lady Reading Hospital (LRH) where Sumbal was said to be in a critical condition.
Sharafata is the third polio vaccinator to be killed in Peshawar. Five vaccinators have been killed in Karachi and two others in Charsadda, bringing the total number of fatalities to 10. Even policemen escorting vaccinators have been killed in similar attacks in Swabi, Mardan and Bajaur Agency.
Police mounted a manhunt for the attackers and detained five suspects for questioning. An official of Badhaber police, Saleem Khan, died of a cardiac arrest during the manhunt.
Soon after the attack, the district administration suspended the vaccination campaign and convened an emergency meeting to revise the security plan for the field workers.
“New dates for the vaccination drive will be announced once the security plan is reconfigured,” said district administration official Feroz Shah. Shah said the decision was taken by Deputy Commissioner Javed Marwat.
It was the first day of a three-day vaccination campaign in the provincial metropolis. According to police, 135 vaccination teams were working in the area and it was not possible to provide police escort for all teams.
It was the first of its kind attack in Badhaber which borders the Akka Khel area of Khyber Agency. Previously, polio workers were killed in Khazana and Mathra areas and dispensaries were attacked in Faqirabad and Gulbahar parts of the city.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) condemned the attack and said it would consult local authorities about whether to continue the campaign.
“We request the Ulema and religious leaders to step forward and play their role in making Pakistan a safe country for health workers” Dr Elias Durry, WHO’s polio chief said in a statement.
Durry said that the health agency was working closely with the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government to monitor the situation evolving after the attacks on polio teams in Peshawar.
President Asif Ali Zardari also condemned the attack, saying “such cowardly acts of the militants and extremists cannot deter the strong resolve of the government to eradicate polio”.
No one has claimed responsibility for the killing, but last year the Taliban banned polio vaccinations in the Waziristan region, alleging the campaign was a cover for espionage.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 29th, 2013.
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