Pakistan on Monday decided to move ahead with a nationwide campaign to vaccinate millions of children, hours after gunmen shot dead a police man guarding a team of polio vaccine workers.
The attack occurred in the Kohat district of the conservative and volatile province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa on Sunday, two days after the campaign started, but the authorities decided to go ahead with their plan and expanded the scope of the drive to the entire country.
The health workers escaped the attack unhurt, officials said.
“More than 40 million children under the age of 5 will be vaccinated with the polio vaccine, along with a supplementary dose of vitamin A during the campaign,” a Health Ministry official said on Monday.
More than 290,000 health workers, mostly young women, will go door-to-door for the vaccination campaign to protect children from lifelong paralysis caused by the polio virus, said Shahzad Baig, head of the country’s UN-funded polio eradication programme.
Pakistan started a polio programme in 1994 and came very close to eliminating the disease but recorded 147 cases, a five-year high, in 2019, amid vaccine boycotts and attacks on health workers.
Militants linked with al-Qaeda have attacked polio vaccinators, killing a dozen and undermining the campaign.
The militants accuse the health workers of acting as spies and claim the polio vaccine seeks to sterilize Muslim children.
Pakistan, one of the two countries where people suffer the crippling disease, alongside neighbouring Afghanistan.
According to official statistics, only one case of polio has been reported so far this year.
The decline is seen a huge success, as the numbers have fallen from 84 new cases last year and 147 in 2019.