Anti-polio drive suspended in Sindh;
panic prevails in health circles
KARACHI/PESHAWAR: Gunmen shot dead four lady health workers in Karachi and one in Peshawar on Tuesday, shocking people across the country.
In addition, two co-workers of the four ill-fated women were wounded in the seemingly coordinated attacks in Karachi. Earlier on Monday, the supervisor of a polio vaccinators team was also killed in the city, raising the toll of polio workers killed in the last 24 hours to six.
The four polio vaccinators were killed at noon in Orangi Town, Landhi and Baldia Ittehad Town. Police said similar weapons were used in the attacks, leading to a conclusion that they were coordinated.
Following the attacks, Sindh Health Minister Dr Sagheer Ahmed halted the polio vaccination campaign in the province for an indefinite period so that the safety of thousands of health workers was ensured. The decision was taken on the advice the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The WHO and Unicef global chiefs, in a joint statement, said they stood by the federal, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governments in condemning the multiple attacks that have killed six health workers.
Karachi police spokesman SSP Imran Shaukat said all the incidents took place within 15 minutes of each other. The first incident was reported at around 11:30 am in Landhi UC-1 where two polio vaccinators were gunned down. The victims have been identified as Fehmida, 44, and her niece Madiha, 19.
At the same time, armed men shot dead another polio vaccinator, Kaneez Fatima, 20, and seriously wounded her co-worker Rashid in Muhammad Khan Colony in the Ittehad Town area of the city in the jurisdiction of the Mochko police station.
Another woman vaccinator, Naseema, was shot dead in UC-7 of Orangi Town in the jurisdiction of the Iqbal Market police station. Her co-worker Israr was also seriously injured in the firing.
Police, backed by armoured personnel carriers (APCs), ringed the Gulshan-e-Buner area and arrested 28 persons with semi-automatic and automatic weapons on them. Station house officers (SHOs) of all three police stations claimed that those inthem about the activity of their teams.
On the other hand, incharge of polio vaccine campaign in Baldia Town, Dr. Arif Niaz, claimed that police had deployed a mobile van in Baldia Town for security of health workers but it was not possible for them to escort each and every polio team.
Following the incidents, polio workers all over the city returned to their bases and many vowed not to take part in the campaign even if they are provided security by the law enforcing agencies.
“I got a call from my mother who learnt about killings. She asked me to abandon the campaign and return home immediately,” Shamim, a health worker, said.Meanwhile, in Peshawar, unidentified motorcyclists opened fire on two female anti-polio campaigners and killed one of them. The incident took place in Tirayee Payan, a village in the provincial capital.
Farzana Bibi, daughter of Said Rahman, and her sister were administering anti-polio vaccines to children in the jurisdiction of Mathra Police Station when they came under fire.Farzana sustained bullet injuries while her sister remained unharmed. She was rushed to the Lady Reading Hospital where she succumbed to her injuries. Doctors said Farzana was hit in the head and her brain was damaged.
Her family had not lodged a case with the police till the filing of this report.A statement issued by the Polio Monitoring Cell of the Chief Minister’s House said that a female polio team member was shot dead during the anti-polio campaign being carried out across the province.
“According to the second member of the team who happened to be Farzana Bibi’s sister, two unidentified persons riding a motorcycle opened fire on them,” the statement added.“The motive behind this cold-blooded murder cannot be established until investigation is held into the incident, but initial reports suggest that personal enmity may be the cause,” it said.
A police official said the girl was engaged and the family of her fiancé was demanding early marriage causing a dispute between the two families that might be a cause of the attack. Police conducted raids in Hazarkhwani village and other areas to find her fiancé, but no arrests could be made.
Agencies add: Viewing the situation from Islamabad, President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf strongly condemned the attacks on the health workers. The president directed that the culprits be brought to book.
The prime minister said the role of polio workers in eradication of the disease was crucial and they should be provided foolproof security. He lauded the services of polio teams in the fight against this crippling disease.
Sindh governor and chief minister have also condemned the incidents and directed the concerned authorities to arrest the culprits. Anti-polio teams had received telephone calls threatening them that they would regret helping the ‘infidel’ campaign against polio, said health official Gul Naz, who oversees polio immunisation drive in a troubled part of Karachi.
Inspector General of Sindh Police (IGP) Fayyaz Ahmed Laghari ordered foolproof security for health workers and volunteers engaged in door-to-door anti-polio campaign in Karachi.The police chief ordered a strict action against those found harassing anti-polio vaccinators or attempting to assault them.
Lagahri the culprits would soon be arrested through proper intelligence sharing.He ordered the superintendents of police (SPs) to ensure contact and regular coordination with polio vaccinators working in their respective jurisdictions. He said SP’s are responsible for security of workers engaged in these campaigns.
Our correspondent adds from Lahore: After the incidents of firing on polio vaccination teams in Karachi and Peshawar, the Punjab government has put the district administrations and police of vulnerable districts on high alert.
Punjab Health Secretary Arif Nadeem on Tuesday talked to the commissioners/DCOs of Rawalpindi, Attock, Mianwali, Rajanpur and DG Khan and directed them to take appropriate security measures for vaccination teams. “Armed policemen should accompany polio vaccination teams in the sensitive areas,” he directed the officials.