Who killed two polio workers in Swabi?

Despite repeated threats by TTP and other extremist forces, why has the government failed to provide adequate security to the polio workers? Will an independent inquiry be conducted into the inhumane act committed by terrorists?

Polio

Two polio workers were killed on Wednesday when their team came under attack in Swabi’s Parmoli area. According to Swabi District Police Officer Imran Shahid, unidentified men opened fire at the polio team while they were on duty.

As a result of the firing, a female health worker was killed on the spot while another was severely injured. The injured woman was rushed to  Kalu Khan Hospital. She was later shifted to Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar, where she succumbed to her injuries during the course of treatment, according to LRH Medical Director Dr. Khalid Masood.

Taking notice of the attack, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Mahmood Khan directed Inspector General of Police Sanaullah Abbasi to submit a report on the incident. He further directed the police to take strict action against the perpetrators of the attack.

Rumors were circulated on social media that a one-year-old girl had died in Swabi due to the polio vaccine, to which people started questioning the utility of the polio vaccine

Attacks on polio workers are common in various parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. This is one of the biggest hindrances to the eradication of polio from the country.

Polio: A Dangerous Disease

Polio is a highly infectious disease caused by a poliovirus mainly affecting children under the age of five. It invades the nervous system and can causes paralysis or even death. While there is no cure for polio, vaccination is the most effective way to protect children from this crippling disease.

Each time a child under the age of five is vaccinated, their protection against the virus increases. Repeated immunisations have protected millions of children from polio, allowing almost all countries to become polio-free. Currently, polio cases are often reported from two countries — Pakistan and Afghanistan — due to which the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) has recommended that every person, who intends to travel abroad, has to be vaccinated at the start of their journey.

Read more: The rise of polio cases in Pakistan: What is the way forward?

The IMB, which works on behalf of international donor agencies, issues reports regarding the performance of the countries after every six months. In November 2012, the IMB had recommended travel restrictions on Pakistan and the recommendations were implemented on May 5, 2014.

Challenges to counter Polio

The Taliban have issued a written warning to polio workers to stop their duties otherwise they will be responsible for any damage that happens to them. It has been creating challenges for the provincial government to address the critical situation.

According to details, after a vicious campaign was launched on social media against the polio vaccine, Facebook blocked as many as 31 accounts/pages involved in propaganda against vaccination in Pakistan on the request of the government’s polio program.

Rumours circulated on social media that a one-year-old girl had died in Swabi due to the polio vaccine, after which people started questioning the utility of the polio vaccine.

Prime Minister’s Focal Person on Polio, Babar Bin Atta, said while talking to the media; “Print and electronic media showed responsibility and decided to wait till getting the autopsy report of the deceased. However, an organized campaign was launched on social media that the girl had died because of the vaccine and people should not vaccinate their children,” he said.

Representatives of international partners and donors also assured their continued cooperation to the government in support of the polio eradication mission

Mr. Atta said that within one hour Facebook blocked all those accounts/pages so they would not continue their malicious campaign against the polio vaccine. “We are thankful to Facebook for cooperating with us. We have also taken the polio team members into confidence that they should share the pro-polio vaccine posts with those who hesitate to vaccinate their children due to the campaign,” he said.

Recently, Prime Minister Khan said that polio eradication was the top-most priority of the government as it affected the future generation. He stressed upon the need for a robust Ehsaas Polio Partnership for implementation of the two vital programs.

The army representative assured full support to polio teams in their efforts to reach out to children in far-flung areas of the country. Representatives of international partners and donors also assured their continued cooperation to the government in support of the polio eradication mission.

Read more: Polio cases take Pakistan by storm, urging immediate action

Deputy Director of Polio Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Dr. Tim Peterson presented a letter of appreciation from Bill Gates to Prime Minister Khan for efforts being made to eliminate the crippling disease.

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