On Dec 18 and 19, 2012, three women and one man were killed in Karachi, and one woman and two men were shot dead in Peshawar, Pakistan. The killings occurred as the polio vaccination volunteers were visiting homes on the second day of a 3 day national campaign.
The incidents will probably have deleterious effects on the immunisation drive; Karachi is the largest city in Pakistan (with 18 million inhabitants) and Peshawar is the capital of the province with the most polio cases. 5·2 million children in Karachi alone are younger than 5 years.
UNICEF and the health ministry temporarily suspended the immunisation campaign in Pakistan, which still has persistent active transmission of polio.
Zulfiqar Bhutta (Aga Khan University, Pakistan) stated that the volunteers “were brutally murdered most reprehensibly” where most are in favour of vaccination programmes by people who were not from local areas.
He denounced media reports suggesting that the killings were indicative of public sentiment against vaccinations after the US Central Intelligence Agency implemented a fake campaign to find Osama Bin Laden.
“I think one needs to be very careful in generalising, oversimplifying, and placing the blame of the current dysfunction…in the immunisation programme in the laps of the communities and families.”
Bhutta says that, while much disinformation about the oral polio vaccine exists, the same is not true for injectable vaccines. “This is an ideal excuse for vaccination programme managers to absolve themselves of their responsibilities”, he told TLID.
“This is a clear case of targeted terrorism…meant to scare female health workers and their families from working in the field. This evil should be nipped in the bud. Today it is community volunteers; tomorrow it will be female doctors, nurses, and educators. We cannot allow these people to take us back to the dark ages”, he added.