Islamabad, Jan 12 (efe-epa).- A policeman was killed on Tuesday while protecting a polio vaccination team in northwestern Pakistan in what was the first campaign of the year against the endemic disease in the south Asian country.
The officer was shot by gunmen while escorting a vaccination team in Karak district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, a spokesman for the Polio Eradication program, Mohamed Safdar, told EFE.
Safar added that the vaccination campaign has continued in the area while the attack was under investigation.
The killing occured on the second day of the first vaccination campaign of 2021 through which the government seeks to administer polio drops to 40 million children under the age of five to immunize them from the disease that can cause paralysis and muscle atrophy in the limbs.
Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only two countries where polio remains endemic and armed attacks by armed groups against vaccinators and their escorts have been one of the main obstacles in the fight against the disease.
Pakistan is the global epicenter of polio with 84 cases in 2020, down from 147 in 2019, but still far above previous years when 12, eight, 20 and 54 cases were recorded, respectively.
Several people in Pakistan consider vaccination to be against Islamic practices, and some even fear that the anti-polio campaign was part of a west-hatched conspiracy to control birth rates of Muslims by causing infertility with vaccinations.
Thus, is common to hear about attacks by radical Islamists on health workers working in the immunization drive.
Around the end of January, two polio workers were shot dead in the town of Parmoli in the Swab district in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
In February, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for eradication of polio from the country and expressed confidence that it was possible.
In 2020, the government in Pakistan halted its polio vaccination campaigns for four months due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The campaign was resumed in July after the south Asian country started “facing widespread circulation of virus” that causes polio, according to a statement by the country’s polio program. EFE-EPA