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Unarmed Women health workers gunned down in Pakistan

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
December 19th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Health workers in their tireless efforts in trying to combat polio among a nation's children who otherwise don't have healthcare would ordinarily be welcomed with open arms. Not so in Pakistan, where at least six women conducting polio vaccination efforts were gunned down. Taliban fighters have called the anti-polio campaign as a "Western plot."

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The coordinated attacks took place in the villages of Karachi and Peshawar. In response, the government's immunization campaign against the crippling disease was suspended in Karachi following the attacks. Five women were killed and two men were wounded in two separate attacks.

Health Official Gul Naz, who oversees the project in the area where the women were shot, said that phone calls were made warning workers that they would regret helping the "infidel" campaign against polio, said.

Senior police officer Shahid Hayat blamed "militants who issued a fatwa against polio vaccination in the past" for the killings. A separate attack likewise occurred in the neighborhood of Gulshan-e-Buner.

"They were fired upon by unidentified gunmen who rode away on motorcycles. Two women members suffered multiple gunshots and died on the spot," Shahid said.

Authorities said the attacks were coordinated and occurred at the same time in different parts of the city.

Government Official Javed Marwar said that gunmen in Peshawar on a motorcycle shot a 17-year-old woman supervising an anti-polio campaign. She later died of her wounds.

All of the victims were Pakistanis who were working with a United Nations-backed program to eradicate polio, a disease that attacks the nervous system and can cause permanent paralysis within hours of infection.

Polio has been wiped out worldwide in all but a handful of countries. At least 35 children in Pakistan have been infected this year.

Provincial health minister Sagheer Ahmed in Karachi says that 24,000 polio workers have been informed that it was suspending the anti-polio drive in the province.

Officials could not confirm if all the attacks were linked to the health campaign, said Matthew Coleman, a spokesman for the United Nations Children's Fund.

"We're concerned for the safety of front-line workers. They are the true heroes," he said.

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