Into the Abyss: The Escalating Violence Against Pakistan's Polio Workers


This year has been a disastrous one for Pakistan's campaign to eradicate polio, and 2014 isn't even over yet. According to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), there have been 220 cases of polio in Pakistan in the past 10 months, a number far greater than the 93 cases in all of 2013. The last time Pakistan saw numbers this high was 15 years ago, in 1999, when 558 cases were recorded. One of the central reasons for this increase is that extremists are successfully targeting polio workers in violent attacks.

So far in 2014, there have been 20 attacks on polio workers in Pakistan that have killed 32 people, according to data I collected using news reports; and the attacks are only escalating in lethality and violence. In 2013, there were 29 attacks against polio workers, killing 22 people; and in 2012, there were only nine attacks that resulted in the deaths of 10 people.

The current war by Pakistani extremists on the country's polio workers began on June 16, 2012, when Taliban leaders in both North and South Waziristan banned the vaccination campaign until the United States ceased drone strikes in the region. The first incidents occurred in July 2012, when on July 17, a U.N. doctor from Ghana and his driver were shot and injured in the Gadap Town section of Karachi. Three days later, another polio worker involved in the same campaign was killed in another shooting in the same area. The violence reached new heights in December 2012, when in the span of just two days, eight people were killed in six separate attacks.

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