Crippled polio drive takes another hit

Four workers gunned down in Karachi and Mansehra; victims include two young mothers, a male student.

Our Correspondents January 21, 2014
Relatives of a slain vaccinator mourn outside a morgue in Karachi. PHOTO: REUTERS


Less than a week after the World Health Organisation (WHO) dubbed Peshawar the world’s largest reservoir of the debilitating virus, four polio workers were killed in separate incidents in Karachi and Mansehra on Tuesday.

The first attack of the day took place in Karachi’s Qayyumabad that falls in the Korangi neighbourhood. Assailants opened fire on teams on the second day of a three-day polio campaign, killing two female polio workers along with a male colleague and injuring two others.

The victims were identified as 25-year-old Anita, wife of Zafar and the mother of three children. The second victim was Akbari Begum, 28, a mother of four children. The third was later identified as 22-year-old Fahad Khalil, a bachelor of commerce student. Their injured colleague was identified as Salman and the injured passerby as Syed Akhtar.

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Witnesses said the armed assailants were already present at the site and attacked the polio teams soon after they started working in the area. “A little before, they knocked on the door, the armed men came close to them and resorted to indiscriminate firing,” said an eyewitness. “Within seconds, they moved towards the next street, shot more vaccinators and fled.”

The victims were shot multiple times. They were taken to Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC) where doctors pronounced three of them dead. “Two women and a man were brought dead to the hospital,” medico-legal officer at JPMC Dr Manzur Memon told The Express Tribune. “The injured are not out of danger.”

Police reached the site shortly after the attack and collected evidence from the crime scene. At least four armed assailants on two motorcycles are believed to be behind the attack, which, according to law enforcers, was carried out after “proper homework”.

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“Militants of a banned outfit were behind the attack,” District East police chief DIG Munir Shaikh told The Express Tribune. Though polio vaccinators claimed the attack was a result of the police’s insincerity and focus on sensitive areas, police higher-ups disagreed. “There was an agreement between the police and polio management that no polio worker will go to the site without security escort. They should not go without police protection.”

No case has been registered against the incident till the filing of this report.

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Authorities have suspended the polio immunisation drive in District East and the Korangi District of Karachi after the attack. “It is not an easy matter. We are revising our campaign programme. We will try to sort out the issue scientifically,” said Iqbal Durrani, Sindh health secretary.

In the Mansehra incident, a schoolteacher engaged in a polio vaccination campaign was gunned down in a remote village of Oghi Tehsil, police and eyewitnesses said.

Oghi police said that health authorities had engaged Muhammad Aleem, a primary schoolteacher of village Batkarar Sher Garh, to administer polio drops to the children in his own village. On Tuesday afternoon, he was working with another colleague Muhammad Ilyas when Afzal, another fellow villager, came close to the teacher and fired shots at point blank range, killing him on the spot.

The accused later managed to escape while the other polio workers in the area suspended their work and protested with his colleagues and family members, demanding the arrest of the attacker within 72 hours. They also demanded compensation for the heirs of the deceased under the WHO’s rules.

Meanwhile, DPO Mansehra Khuram Rasheed brushed aside the impression that the murder was an act of terrorism, adding that it was the result of a family feud since the alleged attacker is a close relative of the deceased.

In a third incident in Balochistan’s Panjgur district on Tuesday, armed men snatched an official vehicle, mobile phones and polio vaccines from a polio team. According to police, the polio team was part of a door-to-door campaign to administer polio drops to children, when armed men took away their vehicle and other belongings at the Bantistan area. The police registered a case.

President condemns attack

President Mamnoon Hussain called upon all stakeholders to participate in the nationwide polio campaign for the year 2014, which kicked off on Monday.

At the outset of a meeting, he strongly condemned the incident of firing on polio workers in Karachi and expressed condolences with the bereaved families. “Such attacks cannot deter our commitment, rather they further strengthen our resolve to continue the ongoing fight against polio,” he said.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 22nd, 2014.


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