WHO polio worker shot dead in Pakistan
The World Health Organisation (WHO)
and UNICEF issued a statement on 21 July
saying they are deeply saddened by the
killing of Muhammad Ishaq, a local community
worker who was part of the polio eradication
initiative in Pakistan. Ishaq was shot
and killed in the Gadap town area of Karachi
on Friday evening 20 July.
Polio immunization activities were
suspended in this area of Karachi earlier
this week after a shooting incident injured
two WHO staff members who were
supporting the implementation and monitoring
of a vaccination campaign.
Until activities were suspended Ishaq had
worked with the national polio eradication
effort as a Union Council Polio Worker for
several months, helping to plan and implement
vaccination campaigns to protect the
most underserved and vulnerable children
against this debilitating disease.
WHO notes that because of the dedication
of people like Ishaq, Pakistan is this year
closer than ever to the eradication of polio.
Polio remains endemic in only three
countries: Pakistan, Afghanistan and
Nigeria. Ishaq was one of the thousands of
people across Pakistan who worked selflessly
in the battle to eradicate the disease.
The statement reads: “WHO, UNICEF
and all of the polio partners in Pakistan
and globally express their deepest
sympathy to his family for this tragic loss.
The partners of the Global Polio
Eradication Initiative remain committed
to supporting the Government of Pakistan
and the people of Pakistan in their efforts
to eradicate this devastating disease,”
Meanwhile, IRIN news reports from
Pershawar on 18 July that efforts to combat
polio in Pakistan have received a setback
just as the fight against the disease had
seemed to be going well, with the Global
Polio Eradication Initiative reporting only
22 cases in the country this year, a distinct
improvement on the 59 reported by the
same date last year.
Hafiz Gul Bahadur, an influential Taliban
commander in the North Waziristan tribal
agency, has banned polio vaccinations, prompting Taliban leaders in South
Waziristan and other tribal areas to follow
suit, according to Maulana Mirza Jan, head of
the shura or assembly of religious scholars, in
Wana, the principal city of South Waziristan.
“It will be hard” to persuade the militant
leaders to change their minds, until “orders
come from Bahadur”, Jan told IRIN.
Fawad Khan, director of health services
for the tribal belt, said “some 240,000 children
would be affected in North and South
Waziristan if the polio drops were not
given”, and that the three-day anti-polio
drive which began in the country on 16
July had been called off in North and
South Waziristan. Government representatives
are attempting to work out a deal
with Taliban leaders, according to Khan.
IRIN says there are alarming signs the
problem may be spreading beyond the
tribal belt into other areas. On 16 July a
doctor delivering polio drops in the
Sohrab Goth area of Karachi, dominated
by a Pashtoon population, had their
vehicle shot at by unknown gunmen. The
doctor, a Ghanaian national, and his
Pakistani driver were injured.
“We cannot yet say the incident in
Karachi is related to events in the tribal
areas,” Michael Coleman, communication
specialist for the UN Children’s Fund
(UNICEF), told IRIN from Islamabad. He,
however, said the incident was disturbing,
as teams delivering health services were
not usually targeted.
Coleman confirmed the anti-polio drive in
North and South Waziristan had been more or
less suspended for the time being, given the
danger to health workers, but that “teams
have been able to reach parts of South
Waziristan and vaccinate some 7,000 children
– approximately 10% of the total number of
under-five children in the agency”.
Drones and spies
The whole issue is a complex one, wrapped
up in politics. Hafiz Gul Bahadur has said
polio teams will be allowed into the tribal
belt only if US drone attacks targeting
militants are stopped.
The Taliban have also expressed fears
health workers delivering polio drops may be used as spies, as happened in the
Dr Shakil Afridi, the doctor who controversially
used a mock anti-polio drive in a
bid to pinpoint the location of al-Qaeda
chief Osama bin Laden. Afridi has been
sentenced to a 33-year jail term under the
justice system of the Khyber Agency.
“Since the Afridi case, we were afraid
there would be a backlash against polio
teams affecting the campaign,” Rakshanda
Bibi, a health worker who has previously
visited tribal areas with anti-polio teams,
told IRIN. “It is the innocent children
who will suffer because of this,” she said.
The 198 polio cases in 2011 were the
highest recorded anywhere in the world, triggering
renewed efforts at the highest levels this
year to ensure the problem was controlled.
Global Polio Eradication Initiative
of upload: 26th Sep 2012