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Deaths halt Pak UN polio work

Islamabad, Dec. 19: The UN suspended all polio-related field activities in Pakistan today after more attacks on public health workers attempting to immunise children. Two persons were killed and another wounded around the northwestern city of Peshawar.

The shootings followed a day of violence yesterday in the port city of Karachi in which four female health workers were killed. The attacks today brought the death toll from the three-day polio immunisation campaign to eight people, most of them women.

The WHO and Unicef ordered their staff members off the streets in response to the latest shootings, although some provincial governments continued to immunise children.

The shootings represent the most direct assault yet on an urgently needed public health programme in one of the world’s last remaining reservoirs of the polio virus. Pakistan is one of three countries were polio remains endemic — the others are Nigeria and Afghanistan — and it has made strong progress against the disease following a disastrous rate of infection last year.

So far in 2012, officials say, Pakistan has recorded 56 new polio cases, compared with 192 at the same point in 2011. The turnaround is due to a series of nationwide immunisation drives targeting children under 5, which can involve up to 225,000 public health workers.

But the unprecedented series of attacks targeting female health workers in recent days threatens to hinder future immunisation efforts.

The attacks today were concentrated in the districts around Peshawar. North of the city, a gunman riding a motorcycle killed a female health worker and her driver. Another driver was seriously wounded in a second incident close to the city centre. And in Nowshera, east of Peshawar, four female health workers reported being shot at but not hit.

 
 
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