U.N. Suspends Polio Campaign in Pakistan After More Killings of Workers
The front-line heroes of Pakistan’s war on polio are its volunteers: young women who tread fearlessly from door to door, in slums and highland villages, administering precious drops of vaccine to children in places where their immunization campaign is often viewed with suspicion.
Now, those workers have become quarry. After militants stalked and killed eight of them over the course of a three-day, nationwide vaccination drive, the United Nations suspended its anti-polio work in Pakistan on Wednesday, and one of Pakistan’s most crucial public health campaigns has been plunged into crisis.
The World Health Organization and Unicef ordered their staff members off the streets, while government officials reported that some polio volunteers — especially women — were afraid to show up for work.
At the ground level, it is those female health workers who are essential, allowed privileged entrance into private homes to meet and help children in situations denied to men because of conservative rural culture. “They are on the front line; they are the backbone,” said Imtiaz Ali Shah, a polio coordinator in Peshawar.