Gunmen have shot and killed a mother and her daughter who were immunising children against polio in Pakistan’s south-western city of Quetta.
The attack took place as hundreds of polio teams, many of them volunteers, were out working on a campaign against the disease, police official Naseebullah Khan said.
Sakina Bibi, 50, and her 20-year-old daughter, Alizah, were providing polio immunisation drops to children when two gunmen riding on a motorcycle shot them. “Both died on their way to the hospital,” said Khan.
It is the latest in a string of attacks on attempts to prevent children from contracting the crippling and sometimes deadly disease.
Pakistan’s prime minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, condemned the attacks. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
“Polio teams are rendering a huge national service to save our children from the crippling disease. Attack on these dedicated workers, risking their lives for their nation, is an attack on our future,” Abbasi’s office said in a statement.
Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria are the only three countries in the world where polio has still not been eliminated.
Pakistan’s government regularly launches anti-polio drives despite threats from the Taliban, hardline clerics and other organisations, who mistrust the agenda behind such health campaigns and see vaccinations as part of a western conspiracy. Clerics have claimed the vaccines will sterilise Pakistani children.
A colleague of the two women who did not wish to be named told the Guardian: “This is really tragic, that our colleagues have been killed in the line of duty in Quetta today. There may be various insights behind this incident but, for the national cause, government administration, security agencies and polio workers are still committed to keep campaigns continuing.”
Mahmood Jan, an Islamic cleric, said: “In Quetta and the surrounding districts of Balochistan, people fear espionage like [that carried out by] Shakil Afridi. People here mostly dislike NGO activities – polio being part of such activities.
“Currently, polio vaccination teams are guarded by police personnel. Hence scepticism of the high-profile campaign of the American agenda – and our government is promoting their agenda.”
Suspicion of vaccination drives was exacerbated by disputed reports that a Pakistani doctor used a fake hepatitis vaccination campaign to gather DNA samples to help the CIA track down Osama bin Laden.
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