“The brutal assassination of nine grassroots level health workers in Pakistan, who were involved in a door-to-door immunization campaign in an attempt to secure children from crippling polio, adds an unprecedentedly grave dimension to the ongoing carnage in Pakistan,” Sania Nishtar, founder of Heartfile, Heartfile Health Financing, and the recently launched Sania Nishtar Health Fund, writes in an opinion piece in the Huffington Post U.K.’s “Impact” blog. “[T]he occurrence has deep-seated implications for the global drive to eliminate an infectious disease for a second time from this planet,” she continues, adding, “Additionally, it illustrates the nature of polarization, mistrust and extremism, which has crept into the Pakistani society, posing challenges on many fronts, beyond public health.”
7 More Health Workers Killed In Pakistan In Attacks Suspected To Be Linked To Murders Of Polio Vaccinators
“Gunmen ambushed and shot dead six Pakistani women aid workers and a male doctor on Tuesday, police said, and the charity they worked for said it suspected the attacks were linked to recent murders of polio vaccination workers,” Reuters reports. “Two weeks ago, gunmen killed nine health workers taking part in a national polio vaccination drive in a series of attacks,” the news agency notes (Ahmad/Houreld, 1/1). The murders of the polio workers “brought the work of 225,000 vaccinators to a standstill,” the New York Times writes, adding, “Polio eradication officials have promised to regroup and try again. But first they must persuade the killers to stop shooting workers and even guarantee safe passage.” The newspaper examines the history of resistance to polio vaccination campaigns in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Mali (McNeil, 12/24).
Pakistan Reports 9th Death In Polio Worker Attacks, Resumes Vaccination Campaign Under Police Escort
“Another victim from attacks on U.N.-backed anti-polio teams in Pakistan died on Thursday, bringing the three-day death toll in the wave of assaults on volunteers vaccinating children across the country to nine, officials said,” the Associated Press reports (Khan, 12/20). “Four female health workers were killed in Karachi, shot dead by masked men on motorbikes. The other five victims, including a 17-year-old volunteer, were slain in Peshawar and Charsadda,” Inter Press Service notes (Yusufzai/Ebrahim, 12/20). The attacks “indicate a threat not only to workers but also to the effort to eradicate the disease — locally and globally,” Scientific American’s “Observations” blog adds (Harmon, 12/20).
The following blog posts were published in response to a series of attacks against polio workers in Pakistan this week, which have left eight dead since Monday.
“U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is calling the killing of health workers trying to vaccinate Pakistani children against polio in a U.N.-backed campaign ‘cruel, senseless and inexcusable,'” the Associated Press reports, noting, “Ban said at his year-end news conference [on Wednesday] that the eight killed were among thousands across Pakistan ‘working selflessly to achieve the historic goal of polio eradication'” (12/19). Similarly, “[t]he World Health Organization and UNICEF in their statements have expressed their strong commitment and support to the Government of Pakistan and the people of Pakistan in their efforts to rid the country of polio and other diseases,” Pakistan Today writes (12/19).
“Nigeria is one of only three countries — along with Afghanistan and Pakistan — that remains blighted by polio,” Aliko Dangote, founder and CEO of the Dangote Group and chair of the Dangote Foundation, writes in a Project Syndicate opinion piece. He notes Nigeria is “one of Africa’s most developed countries,” “the largest recipient of foreign direct investment in Africa,” home to “thriving Nigerian businesses,” and “will soon surpass South Africa to become Africaâ€™s largest economy.” However, “Nigerians cannot hope to lead Africa, economically or otherwise, while neglecting to eliminate preventable diseases like polio,” he writes.
“Three workers in a polio eradication campaign were shot in Pakistan on Wednesday, and two of them were killed, the latest in an unprecedented string of attacks over the past three days that has partially halted the U.N.-backed campaign,” Reuters reports (Ahmad, 12/19). “Earlier on Tuesday, five health workers involved in the vaccination drive were killed in the cities of Karachi and Peshawar,” News Pakistan notes (12/19). Another health care worker was killed on Monday, according to a statement issued Tuesday by the WHO, UNICEF and the Pakistani and provincial governments, which condemned the multiple attacks. “We call on the leaders of the affected communities and everyone concerned to do their utmost to protect health workers and create a secure environment so that we can meet the health needs of the children of Pakistan,” the statement said (12/18). The Associated Press reports the WHO suspended the vaccination campaign in two of the country’s provinces (Khan, 12/19). However, CNN reports the “attacks prompted authorities to suspend the campaign throughout the country” (Khan, 12/19). “Under the canceled program, Pakistani health officials planned to administer millions of ‘polio drops’ to immunize people,” according to International Business Times, which adds, “The program involved 25,000 workers targeting more than 30 million children” (Ghosh, 12/18).
“Gunmen killed five Pakistani women working on a [three-day] U.N.-backed polio vaccination campaign in two different cities on Tuesday, officials said,” the Associated Press reports, adding, “The attacks were likely an attempt by the Taliban to counter an initiative the militant group has opposed.” According to the news agency, “The attacks came a day after an unknown gunman killed a male volunteer for the World Health Organization’s anti-polio campaign in Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi” (Jawad, 12/18). “In Karachi, provincial Health Minister Saghir Ahmed said the government had told 24,000 polio workers it was suspending the anti-polio drive in the province,” Reuters reports. “Some Islamists and Muslim preachers say the polio vaccine is a Western plot to sterilize Muslims,” while “[o]ther religious leaders have taken part in campaigns aimed at debunking that myth,” the news agency notes, adding, “There have been at least three other shootings involving polio eradication workers this year” (Shah et al., 12/18).
The Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) has published a paper (.pdf), titled “The U.S. Role In Global Polio Eradication,” that “provides an overview of the global polio eradication effort, emphasizing the U.S. role,” according to the paper’s summary. The paper, authored by CSIS Global Health Policy Center Fellow Nellie Bristol, aims “to explain how the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) came to where it is today and discuss plans for moving it forward.” The summary continues, “The focus on the United States is not meant to detract from the enormous international investments or essential contributions of individuals from other countries. But by highlighting American involvement, the paper aims to help U.S. policymakers understand the costs, benefits, and challenges of polio eradication and plans to complete eradication and transition GPEI methods and resources into other programs” (12/17).
Strengthen Health Systems To Integrate Polio Vaccinations Into Routine Childhood Immunizations, Save The Children Report Says
Speaking at the GAVI Partners Forum in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, David Olayemi, senior program adviser at Save the Children in Abuja, Nigeria, said fewer than half of children in Nigeria are receiving routine immunizations for diseases such as diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough (DTP), and the rate is dropping, Guardian health editor Sarah Boseley reports in her “Global Health Blog.” Launching a Save the Children report that “calls on GAVI to step up efforts to reach the last 20 percent of children across the developing world who are not getting routine immunization,” Olayemi said part of the reason for the lack of coverage are large efforts to vaccinate children against polio, which offer incentives to health care workers to leave clinics to go into the field, leaving no one to perform routine immunizations, the blog notes.