At least 15 people were killed in a suicide blast targeting police outside a polio vaccination centre in Pakistan’s Quetta on Wednesday. Sources said the deceased included 12 police, one paramilitary and two civilians. Over 10 others suffered serious injuries, nine of whom were police and one a civilian.
Even while Pakistan is one of the two countries on the World Health Organisation (WHO) list of polio-endemic countries, polio workers are targeted every year in the country due to rumors that the polio immunization drive is a front for espionage or a conspiracy to sterilize Muslims.
In March 2014, two bombs struck tribal police officers assigned to guard polio workers in northwest Pakistan, killing 11 people. Pakistan recorded some 300 polio cases in 2014 – its highest number since 1999. Most of the new infections were in north-west Pakistan, where militants regularly target roving health teams, and health officials blamed the rise in cases on several deadly attacks on police workers that year. The number of cases fell to 52 in 2015, reports the BBC’s Shahzeb Jillani. This was largely because vaccination teams could reach areas that were previously off limits because of militancy.
The last attack on a polio target in Pakistan is thought to have taken place in north-western Swabi district in November 2015, when the local polio coordinator was shot dead by unidentified gunmen.