Pakistan 'indefinitely' suspends polio vaccine drive after attacks on health workers
Pakistan has "indefinitely" suspended its nationwide anti-polio campaign, to protect some 270,000 polio field staff from growing attacks.
The anti-polio drive which was launched in April was suspended last week after the country's National Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) for polio directed all provinces to halt the drive, Deutsche Welle reported citing local media.
Last week, two police personnel guarding a team of polio vaccine workers were shot dead in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's Mardan district. Before that, two polio workers were gunned down in the line of duty in Swabi city.
"After the Peshawar incident, the uncertain and threatening situation for the frontline polio workers has emerged and we need to save the program from a further major damage," Dawn quoted the EOC as saying in a statement.
It further said that the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (SPEI) partners had backed the move. "Hence, no further vaccination or catch-up activity will be conducted in any area for this campaign," said the EOC.
Kamal Siddiqi, an Australian journalist of Pakistani origin, has said that these attacks are happening at a time when Pakistan is making strides in its battle against polio.
In an op-ed for The Express Tribune, Siddiqi argued that the recent attacks on vaccine workers serve as a reminder how "Pakistanis of the level of ignorance prevailing in our country and the inability of the government to stamp out religious extremism."
This comes as Pakistan is among only a few countries in the world where polio is still endemic. As many as 922,824 people have been infected with polio in Pakistan with 21,323 deaths so far.
Slamming the Pakistani government, Siddiqi stressed that these attacks need to stop and the authorities need to trace those who are involved in these murders.
"As a nation, we are willing to bear the shame of being isolated and identified as a polio-positive country but cannot go after and punish the extremists who are responsible for this shame -- as this goes against our values," he added.