Via The Express Tribune: Vulnerable Khyber Agency: Polio volunteers pull out in wake of latest murder. Excerpt:
Volunteer polio vaccinators have backed away from the next immunisation drive in Khyber Agency after the murder of anti-polio campaign supervisor Ghilaf Khan on Saturday in Jamrud. Without their assistance, thousands of children will remain unprotected against the crippling virus.
Volunteers and Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) staff have been gripped by fear after Ghilaf was targeted, Dr Usman Afridi, field supervisory medical officer for the EPI, told The Express Tribune.
He said 328 mobile teams – each comprising 2 volunteers – were meant to be part of the polio campaign in the agency. “But after the incident on Saturday, the volunteers have quit, saying their lives are at risk,” he said.
According to Afridi, volunteers’ pulling out midway through the anti-polio drive would mean thousands of children would not be immunised against polio in Khyber Agency.
Ghilaf was the fourth polio volunteer targeted in the month of December in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata).
On December 13, polio worker Yousaf Khan was gunned down, also in Jamrud, Khyber Agency. Yousaf was on his way home from fieldwork when he was murdered. The same day, two policemen were gunned down in Swabi while they were on escort duty with polio immunisation team.
With what seems to be a successful guerrilla war on hapless polio workers, forms of soft power are being used to cajole wary parents, fearful workers and recalcitrant local religious figures to help increase the rate of vaccinations.
After Ghilaf’s death, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan said he would not be scared into abandoning the issue of polio vaccinations. Imran had recently kicked off an inoculation campaign in the K-P.
Also, Maulana Samiul Haq of Darul Uloom Haqqania issued a decree recently, urging parents to immunise their children against polio. He announced the vaccination used is “Shariah compliant.”
Yet, 17,138 refusal cases were reported during December 19 -21 polio vaccination drive held across nine districts of the province, a K-P health department official told The Express Tribune.