May 28, 2013 / 9:37 AM / 7 years ago

WHO suspends polio drive in Pakistani city after shooting

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - The World Health Organisation suspended its polio eradication campaign in a Pakistani city on Tuesday after two young workers were shot as they administered drops, the latest attack aimed at the U.N.-backed operation.

The family members of Sharafata, a worker for an anti-polio drive campaign who died after being shot by unidentified gunmen, mourn her death at a hospital in Peshawar May 28, 2013. REUTERS/Fayaz Aziz

The victims of the shooting in the violence-plagued northwestern city of Peshawar were aged 18 and 20. Police said both had died, but medical sources said one had died and one was seriously wounded.

No group claimed responsibility for the attack, though many Islamists, including Taliban militants, have long opposed the campaign, convinced that the anti-polio drive is a Western plot to sterilize Muslims.

The United Nations in Pakistan pulled all staff involved in the campaign off the streets last December. Immunization continued in some areas without U.N. support although many workers refused to go out.

“They were administering polio drops when they were attacked,” police officer Siraj Ahmed said.

WHO spokesperson Maryam Younas said the organisation was temporarily suspending its polio vaccination drive in Peshawar.

“Operations will remain suspended in Peshawar until the security situation returns to normal,” she said.

The latest violence has raised fresh questions over stability in the South Asian nation.

Critics say the attacks on the health workers are a prime example of the government’s failure to formulate a decisive policy on tackling militancy, despite pressure from key ally the United States, the source of billions of dollars in aid.

Polio crippled thousands of people every year in rich nations until the 1950s. As a result of vaccination, it is now only endemic in three countries - Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Additional reporting By Mehreen Zahra-Malik; Editing by Nick Macfie and Robert Birsel

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