Killings will not halt vaccinations, vows Bhutto's daughter

She speaks out after murder of nine health workers in Pakistan by extremists opposed to UN polio programme

Asifa Bhutto Zardari, daughter of President Zardari of Pakistan, yesterday defiantly vowed that the country's anti-polio campaign would continue, despite the killing of nine health workers by extremists opposed to the vaccination programme. The UN eradication campaign was partly suspended following the shootings last week in Pakistan, one of the last three countries in the world where the disease remains endemic. Speaking yesterday in London Ms Bhutto Zardari, goodwill ambassador for polio eradication, said new ways to protect health workers were being worked out and that she expected vaccinations would quickly resume. "Polio has become a high-profile issue to Pakistan's government, and extremists believe they can twist the government's arm by attacking our workers. We cannot allow these people to dictate what we can and cannot do. The polio vaccine can save millions. It is not against Islam to promote healthy children."

She said the attacks had strengthened her determination to continue. "The government has provided an increased amount of security for our volunteers, who work tirelessly to promote the health of children."

It was not clear initially who was behind the violence as many Islamists, including Taliban militants, have long opposed the campaign. Some say it aims to sterilise Muslims, others that it has been used by US intelligence as a cover for espionage. One militant commander said the programme would not continue unless attacks by US drone aircraft stopped.

But while the Pakistan Taliban have repeatedly threatened health workers involved in the campaign, and some workers said they received calls telling them to stop working with "infidels" just before the attacks, a Pakistan Taliban spokesman, Ihsanullah Ihsan, told Reuters that his group wasn't involved in the violence. However, the same group has threatened polio workers in the past, and in June they banned vaccinations in the north-western Waziristan.

Government officials say the Taliban's hostility to the campaign increased after it emerged that the CIA had used a fake vaccination campaign to try to gather information about Osama bin Laden, before he was found and killed in Pakistan last year.

The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, called the killing of the health workers "cruel, senseless and inexcusable". Speaking at an end-of-year press conference, he said the nine murdered workers were among thousands across Pakistan "working selflessly to achieve the historic goal of polio eradication." The killings prompted the UN World Health Organisation (WHO) to suspend the vaccination drive in two of Pakistan's four provinces, which critics claimed had handed the extremists a propaganda victory.

UN officials estimate that 3.5 million children missed vaccinations this week as a result. The mission to stamp out polio had been started by Ms Bhutto Zardari's mother, Benazir Bhutto, then Pakistan's Prime Minister, who was murdered in a bomb attack in 2007. Ms Bhutto Zardari, 19, who is studying at a British university, said: "The mission was started by my mother and, until it is completed, I will devote as much time and effort as is needed." She said the eradication programme had already faced and overcome the challenge of widespread flooding, which killed more than 400 people and made thousands more homeless. "I want to make her proud and ensure that the country she loved is progressing to become a healthier Pakistan".

Ms Bhutto Zardari dismissed extremist suspicions about "Western medicine", pointing out that much of the vaccine used in Pakistan is manufactured in Indonesia, one of the most populous Muslim countries in the world. She also pointed out that countries such as Saudi Arabia, which takes large numbers of Pakistani migrant workers each year, has made it mandatory that anyone entering the country should receive polio drops. "This is a global problem and deserves global commitment," she insisted.

Pakistan had 20,000 polio cases in 1994, but vigorous vaccination efforts had brought the number down to just 56 in 2012, according to the government. The most recent figures show that Pakistan has now gone seven months without a single reported case of one of the two strains of polio found there.

Polio predominantly affects small children, in some cases paralysing the victim within a few hours. Organisations such as Unicef and the WHO have campaigned for many years to completely eliminate the disease. That campaign was boosted when the chairman of Microsoft, Bill Gates, and his wife Melinda donated more than $1bn to polio vaccinations and campaigns so far, stating that they are willing to continue the funding until the disease is totally eradicated. To date, it has been banished from everywhere except Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria.

"Diseases know no borders, and mankind has a collective responsibility towards the children of the world, and together we must strive to ensure that tomorrow's world is free of this scourge," Ms Bhutto Zardari said.

There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
newsAstonishing moment a kangaroo takes down a drone
Arts and Entertainment
The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit director Peter Jackson with his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
Life and Style
Billie Whitelaw was best known for her close collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett, here performing in a Beckett Trilogy at The Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
people'Omen' star was best known for stage work with Samuel Beckett
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chessington

    £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Service Desk Analyst - Chessington, Surrey...

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Support Analyst / Helpdesk Support Analyst

    £16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is the UK's leading ...

    The Jenrick Group: Finance Manager/Management Accountant

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: The Jenrick Group: Finance Manager/Manag...

    Recruitment Genius: Manufacturing Manager

    £35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a rare opportunity for ...

    Day In a Page

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'