Gunmen have attacked and killed five female members of polio vaccination staff in the cities of Karachi and Peshawar today, and wounded two other workers affiliated with the program, forcing its suspension in both cities for an indefinite period of time.
So far no group has claimed credit for the attack on the WHO-backed plan, but officials speculated that one of the various Pakistani Taliban factions which have spoken out against the programs were likely to be responsible.
The WHO conceded this point, saying that “elements of the Pashtun population” believe that the vaccinations were either dangerous or that the vaccination workers were employed to spy on residents.
Pakistanis are often weary of outside aid workers, but the opposition to the vaccination program comes primarily from the 2011 CIA scheme in which phony child vaccination programs were set up to collect DNA of Pakistanis to test against possible terrorists. The scheme led to the location of Osama bin Laden, but has set back vaccination programs in the nation decades, forcing many aid groups to flee.
Though polio is no longer common in Pakistan, it remains a threat, particularly in the tribal areas where vaccination workers would be most at risk. The WHO says it intends to carry on the program, but how long it will take before they can resume in Peshawar and Karachi remains to be seen.
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