Polio volunteers pull out after attacks in Pakistan

December 24, 2013 - 8:21:14 am
PESHAWAR: Volunteer polio vaccinators have backed away from the next immunisation drive in Pakistan’s northwestern tribal region of Khyber Agency after the murder of anti-polio campaign supervisor Ghilaf Khan on Saturday in Jamrud. Without their assistance, thousands of children will remain unprotected against the crippling virus.

Volunteers and Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) staff have been gripped by fear after Ghilaf was targeted, said Dr Usman Afridi, field supervisory medical officer for the EPI.

He said 328 mobile teams - each comprising 2 volunteers - were meant to be part of the polio campaign in the agency. “But after the incident on Saturday, the volunteers have quit, saying their lives are at risk,” he said.

According to Afridi, volunteers’ pulling out midway through the anti-polio drive would mean thousands of children would not be immunised against polio in Khyber Agency.

Ghilaf was the fourth polio volunteer targeted in the month of December in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata). The official said while the department faced mounting pressure from the government, the militants - on the flip side - were taking it out on polio teams, one worker at a time.

Without resolving security issues, poliovirus cannot be eradicated from Pakistan, stated the official. According to an EPI official, Pakistan has recorded 77 polio cases in 2013, compared to 58 in 2012.

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