There were 18 attacks on health workers in Pakistan in 2017. Attacks on vaccination included abductions, deaths, or serious injuries to health workers and campaign guards. The attacks included close-range shootings by unidentified armed assailants[1] [2] [3]and in two cases improvised explosive devices apparently aimed at vaccinators were used by unknown armed men. One of the IED cases resulted in injuries; in the other case, no one was hurt but the attack resulted in suspension of the campaign.[4] [5](There were also cases of interpersonal violence against polio vaccinators that are not included here.) In one incident in the Tank district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, unknown armed persons abducted three polio workers conducting an anti-polio campaign.[6] At the time of reporting, one of the abducted workers had been rescued, with recovery efforts underway for the remaining two individuals.[7]

Though attacks on vaccinators remain a major concern, the fewer number of vaccinators killed—in particular those affiliated with anti-polio campaigns helped advance the Pakistan national polio program toward a “polio-free Pakistan.” In the past year, Pakistan increased national vaccination rates from 85% in August 2016 to 92% in May 2017.[8] Simultaneously, incident cases for wild poliovirus decreased from 20 cases in 2016 to 3 in 2017.[9] In an effort to curb future attacks, the Pakistan National Polio Emergency Operations Centre (EOC), in its National Emergency Action Plan for Polio Eradication 2017-2018, has launched a targeted social mobilization campaign to promote vaccination activities and reestablish trust and acceptance for all health workers.[10]

Apart from attacks on vaccinators, in Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, armed gunmen opened fire at a doctor as she was traveling from her clinic to her home.[11] The doctor was injured and her driver was instantly killed.[12] ISIS tried to blackmail a female health worker in Rawalpindi, Punjab province by threatening the life of her 8-year-old son if she didn’t pay Rs. 5 lakh (approximately US $7,530).[13] It is unclear if the health worker was affiliated with a local vaccination campaign. The motives for both attacks remain unclear.

[1] Akbar, Ali. “Polio worker shot dead in Bannu.” Dawn, May 24 2017.

[2] “Terrorists kill polio worker in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.” Dunya News, July 2, 2017.

[3] “Immunisation programme worker shot dead in Swabi.” The Express Tribune, July 1, 2017.

[4] “Blast in Dir targets anti-polio team, no casualties reported.” Pakistan Today, November 7, 2017.

[5] Akbar, Ali. “3 Levies men injured in IED blast targeting polio team in Bajaur Agency.” Dawn, October 31, 2017.

[6] “Three polio workers kidnapped in Tank.” The News International Pakistan, May 18, 2017.

[7] Ibid.

[8] National Emergency Operations Centre, Islamabad, Pakistan. 2017. National emergency plan for polio eradication 2017-2018.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] “Lady doctor injured, driver killed in Peshawar attack.” Abb Takk News, May 24, 2017.

[12] Independent News Pakistan. “Driver killed, lady doctor injured in Peshawar.” The Nation, May 24, 2017.

[13] TNS World. “Lady health worker receives extortion call from ISIS commander.” Times International News Service, June 20, 2017.