Pakistan's Health Workers under Attack


On July 3, 2013, a female health worker was killed in northwest Pakistan while conducting polio vaccinations; she was the latest to die in an on-going anti-vaccination campaign by militants. About three weeks earlier, on June 16, militants killed two male volunteers who were administering polio vaccines in northeast Pakistan. That these two attacks follow the fatal shooting of female health workers engaged in a polio vaccination campaign on May 28 provides a stark reminder that polio vaccinators in Pakistan continue to face a serious threat of violence.

Polio, a virus with no cure that can cause paralysis and death, has been the target of a worldwide eradication effort and since the vaccination campaign began in 1988, there has been a 99% decline in reported cases. Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan are the only countries were the virus is still endemic and continued violence against Pakistan health workers poses a threat to the continued success of these eradication efforts.

The recent wave of violence against polio workers is likely linked to opposition from the Pakistani Taliban to the vaccination campaign. On June 16, 2012, Taliban leaders in both North and South Waziristan banned the vaccination campaign pending a cessation of American drone strikes in the region. Since then, there have been at least 27 incidents of violence against health workers involved in Pakistan's polio vaccination campaign, and against the security personnel tasked with protecting them. At least 22 people involved in these efforts have been killed and another 14 people have been injured.

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