The United Nations has announced a complete suspension of its WHO polio vaccination drive in Pakistan today, after a second consecutive day of attacks on vaccination workers brought the death toll to at least nine.
The UN had already suspended the program in the Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwah Provinces yesterday after the first attacks, but after shootings continued they extended it nationwide. Still no group has claimed responsibility for the attacks.
But suspicion of foreign-run vaccination programs has been rampant since early 2011, when the CIA was caught using a phony vaccination scheme in Abbottabad to collect the DNA of Pakistani children in the hopes of finding relatives of terrorists.
In the wake of the CIA scheme, some aid groups have been forced to flee the country outright, and while the US has defended the program as key to the assassination of Osama bin Laden, it has set vaccination and aid work in the country back decades.
Polio is a viral disease that can cause paralysis and in some cases death. It was once common worldwide, but at present only exists in meaningful amounts in Pakistan’s tribal areas, Afghanistan and northern Nigeria.
Since most of Pakistan’s major cities include Pashtun minorities from the tribal areas, the goal in that country is to vaccinate everyone to avoid the virus reestablishing itself, as it did in northern Nigeria, which had nearly wiped out the disease before Boko Haram began denouncing vaccination. Since the 2011 CIA scandal in Pakistan, many Nigerian religious leaders have also treated foreign vaccination programs with suspicion.