Another polio worker shot in Pakistan, six killed in attacks

PESHAWAR Wed Dec 19, 2012 1:05am EST

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PESHAWAR Pakistan Dec 19 (Reuters) - Another polio worker was shot and badly injured in Pakistan on Wednesday, the latest in a string of attacks that left 6 female health workers dead in 24 hours.

The shooting in the northern city of Peshawar so soon after the other killings calls into question whether the U.N.-backed campaign to eradicate polio in Pakistan can continue.

It's unclear who is behind the killings.

The Taliban have repeatedly issued threats against the polio eradication campaign and health workers said they received calls telling them to stop working with the "infidels". But a Taliban spokesman said his group was not involved.

A global vaccination campaign has eradicated the disease from everywhere except Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria.

Wednesday's victim was part of a team of four or five men administering polio vaccinations when gunmen opened fire on the group, said a doctor at Lady Reading Hospital where the man was being treated. He remains in a critical condition.

On Monday and Tuesday, six female health workers were killed in attacks in the southern port city of Karachi and Peshawar. The youngest was 17-years-old.

The shootings, five of which happened in Karachi, Pakistan's biggest city, led provincial health authorities to suspend the polio eradication campaign in the province of Sindh.

But authorities in Khyber Paktunkhwa, where the capital is Peshawar, said they would not accept a recommendation to suspend the campaign.

"You know halting the campaign at this stage would create more problems as it's not a one-day phenomenon. If we stopped the campaign it would encourage the forces opposing the polio vaccination," said local official Javed Marwat.

Polio can paralyse or kill within hours of infection. It is transmitted person-to-person, meaning that as long as one child is infected, the disease can be passed to others.

A spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, Ihsanullah Ihsan, told Reuters his group was not involved. The Taliban have repeatedly said the campaign is a Western conspiracy to sterilize or spy on Muslims.

Their suspicions were only increased after it emerged that the CIA had used a fake vaccination campaign to gather information about Osama bin Laden.

On Wednesday, Pakistan Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf said the campaign needed to continue.

"We cannot and would not allow polio to wreak havoc the lives of our children," he said in a statement.

Pakistan had 20,000 polio cases in 1994 but vigorous vaccination efforts had brought the number down to 56 in 2012, the statement said. (Reporting By Katharine Houreld; Editing by Michael Perry)

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