U.N. ends its po­lio drive in Pak­istan

Eight are killed in at­tacks on work­ers in the ef­fort.

Austin American-Statesman - - THE SECOND FRONT - By­ja­mal Khan

PE­SHAWAR, PAk­iSTAn— The United Na­tions sus­pended its po­lio vac­ci­na­tion drive in Pak­istan on Wed­nes­day af­ter eight peo­ple in­volved in the ef­fort were shot dead in the past two days, a U.N. of­fi­cial said.

The sus­pen­sion was a grave blow to the drive to bring an end to the scourge of po­lio in Pak­istan, one of only three coun­tries where the crip­pling disease still sur­vives.

On Wed­nes­day, gun­men shot at a woman work­ing on the cam­paign in north­west Pak­istan, killing her and her driver, one of five at­tacks dur­ing the day on po­lio work­ers. A male po­lio im­mu­niza­tion worker was crit­i­cally wounded in one of the shoot­ings.

This week six other peo­ple have been killed who were work­ing on the im­mu­niza­tion pro­gram, which has been jointly con­ducted with the Pak­istani government. No one has claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity, but some Is­lamic ex­trem­ists charge that the pro­gram is a cover for es­pi­onage.

At the U.N., Sec­re­tary­Gen­eral Ban Ki-moon con­demned the killing as “cruel, sense­less and in­ex­cus­able.” He said the eight work­ers were among thou­sands across Pak­istan “work­ing self­lessly to achieve the his­toric goal of po­lio erad­i­ca­tion.”

Sarah Crowe, spokes­woman for UNICEF, said the vac­ci­na­tion pro­gram has been sus­pended ev­ery­where in Pak­istan un­til an in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the Pak­istani government is com­pleted.

“This is un­doubt­edly a tragic set­back, but the cam­paign to erad­i­cate po­lio will and must con­tinue,” she said.

Some pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments in Pak­istan con­tin­ued to im­mu­nize chil­dren, in­de­pen­dent of the U.N. drive.

Preven­tion ef­forts have man­aged to re­duce the num­ber of cases in Pak­istan by about 70 per­cent this year com­pared with 2011, but the re­cent vi­o­lence threat­ens to re­verse that progress.

Sus­pi­cion for the at­tacks has fallen on the Pak­istani Tal­iban be­cause of their vir­u­lent op­po­si­tion to the po­lio cam­paign, but the group’s spokesman, Ah­san­ul­lah Ah­san, de­nied re­spon­si­bil­ity. Po­lice say they have killed two mil­i­tant sus­pects and ar­rested a dozen oth­ers in con­nec­tion to the at­tacks but did not say whether they were Tal­iban. Mil­i­tants ac­cuse health work­ers of act­ing as spies for the U.S. and claim the vac­cine makes chil­dren ster­ile.

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