Pakistan: jihadis target health workers

The Guardian reported Feb. 16 that the WHO has logged a sharp jump in polio cases in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province after the parents of 24,000 children refused to allow health workers to administer the “infidel vaccine,” which local clerics using mosque loudspeakers and underground radio stations said was a US plot to sterilize Muslim children. Then it got worse. From India’s Zee News, Feb. 18:

Peshawar, Feb 16: A Pakistani health official in charge of a campaign to innoculate children against polio was killed in a bomb blast Friday, following rumours the vaccination was a US plot to sterilise them.

Abdul Ghani, who headed the government campaign in Bajaur tribal district near the Afghan border, was returning from a meeting with a local religious leader when his vehicle was hit by a bomb.

“Ghani died on the spot while three policemen accompanying him were also injured,” a local administration official Tariq Hasan told agencies.

Earlier, the government said the parents of some 24,000 children had refused to give them the polio vaccine because of a campaign by Muslim clergy.

Health officials have been trying to dispel rumours – sometimes spread on local radio stations or from the loudspeakers of local mosques – that the polio campaign is a western and US conspiracy to reduce Muslim populations.

“The figure in media reports of 24,000 children missed out is close” to the exact number, said Waheed Khan, deputy director of North West Frontier Province health department.

Khan told agencies this was due to “demand-based and religious-based refusals”.

Pakistan last year confirmed 40 cases of the crippling disease, the World Health Organisation (WHO) says.

However, authorities vaccinated 95% of the children in the remote region last month, Khan said.

“We have launched a campaign to convince parents that polio vaccination has nothing to do with religion and it does not affect fertility, or the ability to produce children,” Khan said.

From Pakistan’s Daily Times, Feb. 16:

Cleric Mufti Khalid Shah declared a fatwa on employees of the UN, WHO and all other foreign organisations. “Killing their employees is in line with the teachings of jihad in Islam,” said a notice. Recently aid workers in Bannu were threatened with death.

See our last posts on Pakistan and its tribal borderlands.