The Pakistan government has suspended the anti-polio campaign and post-campaign evaluation “for an indefinite period” following the rising number of attacks on polio workers across the country, Dawn reported on Saturday.
The National Emergency Operation Centre for polio in Islamabad issued a red alert to all the provinces on Friday, directing them to stop the campaign. The nationwide campaign to administer anti-polio drops to 39 million children under five years of age was launched on Monday, and Friday was the last day, following which an evaluation of the campaign was to take place, PTI reported.
The anti-polio campaign in the country has faced troubles after reports of around 25,000 children being taken to hospitals in northwestern Pakistan on Monday after being administered the vaccine. The panic was reportedly caused by unfounded rumours online that children had fallen ill near Peshawar. A mob had torched a government health facility in Peshawar alleging that the anti-polio vaccine was infected.
“After the Peshawar incident, the uncertain and threatening situation for the frontline polio workers has emerged and we need to save the programme from a further major damage,” said the alert issued by the Emergency Operation Centre. “Hence, no further vaccination or catch-up activity will be conducted in any area for this campaign.”
Baber bin Atta, who is Prime Minister Imran Khan’s focal person on polio eradication, said the vaccine was safe and “anti-polio elements” were spreading rumours on social media to scare parents.
On Thursday, two gunmen on a motorcycle shot and killed a polio vaccinator in Chaman. Earlier this week, two police officers who were escorting polio vaccination teams were shot and killed in Buner and Bannu district. In a separate incident, a polio worker was injured in a knife attack in Lahore.