Three more workers in a polio eradication campaign were shot in Pakistan, and two of them were killed, the latest in an unprecedented string of attacks over the past three days that has partially halted the UN-backed campaign.
The killings brought to eight the number of dead in just 24 hours.
The UN in Pakistan has pulled all staff involved in the campaign off the streets, spokesman Michael Coleman said.
The government said immunisation was continuing in some areas without UN support, although many workers refused to go out. Female health workers held protests in the southern city of Karachi and in the capital, Islamabad.
“We go out and risk our lives to save other people’s children from being permanently handicapped, for what? So that our own children become orphans?” health worker Ambreen Bibi said at the Islamabad protest.
The government was caught off guard by the violence, saying they had not expected attacks in areas far from Taliban strong-holds and they would have to change tactics in the health campaign.
“We didn’t expect such attacks in Karachi,” said Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, the human rights minister, who oversees the polio campaign. He was referring to the southern commercial hub where there have been attacks this week.
“In far flung areas where the threats are more pronounced, we have been providing polio teams security.”
Yesterday saw four separate attacks, all in the north. In the district of Charsadda, men on motorbikes shot dead a woman and her driver, police and health officials said.
Hours earlier, gunmen wounded a male health worker in the nearby provincial capital of Peshawar.
Four other female health workers were shot at but not hit in nearby Nowshera, said Jan Baz Afridi, deputy head of the Expanded Programme on Immunisation. Two female health workers were shot at in Dwasaro village in Charsadda, police said.
It was not clear who was behind the violence.
Many Islamists, including Taliban militants, have long opposed the campaign. Some say it aims to sterilise Muslims, while one militant commander said it could not continue unless attacks by US drone aircraft stopped.
On Monday and Tuesday, six health workers were killed in attacks in the southern port city of Karachi and in Peshawar. Five were women and the youngest was 17.
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