The United Nations has suspended its polio vaccination programme in two Pakistani provinces after a health worker and her driver were killed in a second wave of gun attacks.
The killings followed the murder of six female vaccinators in the country on Tuesday, after which the government halted vaccinations across the country’s largest city, Karachi.
The suspension of the UN vaccination drive is a major setback for a campaign that international health officials consider vital to contain the crippling disease but which Taliban insurgents say is a cover for espionage.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but suspicion has fallen on the Pakistani Taliban because of their virulent opposition to the polio campaign. The group’s spokesman, Ahsanullah Ahsan, denied responsibility in a telephone call to The Associated Press yesterday but police said they had killed two militant suspects and arrested a dozen others in connection to the attacks.
The recent violence threatens to reverse the significant progress made this year in preventing polio in Pakistan, one of only three countries where the disease is endemic. Militants accuse health workers of acting as spies for the US after a fake vaccination programme was used to gather intelligence on Osama Bin Laden, and many claim the vaccine makes children sterile. Taliban commanders in the troubled northwest tribal region have also said vaccinations can’t go forward until the US stops drone strikes in the country.