News from Baluchistan Province – yet again men with guns have murdered polio workers in a region where polio is endemic.
Pakistan is one of three countries in the world, along with Afghanistan and Nigeria, where polio remains endemic. But even as Nigeria has managed to halt any rise in new cases, the virus has spread at alarming rates in Pakistan, with 260 new cases reported so far this year, compared with 64 at the same point in 2013, according to Global Polio Eradication Initiative statistics.
Two hundred sixty – I didn’t know that. That’s appalling. Polio is a horrible disease.
Immunization workers have repeatedly come under fire by Pakistani militants, and that appeared to be the case again on Wednesday, though no group claimed responsibility. Militants have widely viewed immunization workers as potential spies and agents of the West.
They have reasons to think so, as that link confirms. Which was the worst threat to the people of Pakistan – bin Laden, or polio? I don’t know.
The vaccination campaign in Quetta and the surrounding district was immediately halted, but officials said it would continue in other districts of Baluchistan.
“Three women and one man died in the attack,” Noor Baksh Mengal, the police official in charge of the neighborhood where the killings took place, said by telephone. “Three other females workers are also wounded.”
They were on their way to meet up with their security detail.
In most cases, however, health workers remain vulnerable to militant attacks even with a security detail. Baluchistan and northwestern regions, like Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province and the tribal areas, have seen both the most intense violence against health workers and the biggest rise in polio cases.
An ongoing military campaign against militants in the North Waziristan tribal region has factored in as well, causing a huge flood of refugees out of an area that had many polio cases.
And polio is contagious – more contagious, if I have my facts right, than Ebola.
It’s an ongoing nightmare.