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Polio workers come under fresh attack in Pakistan

By Shaan Khan, CNN
January 29, 2013 -- Updated 0927 GMT (1727 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • 538 teams are going house-to-house in the area providing polio vaccinations
  • Eight workers were killed last month
  • Pakistanis have viewed polio vaccination campaigns with suspicion

Read a version of this story in Arabic.

Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN) -- Health workers administering polio vaccinations came under fresh attack in Pakistan on Tuesday, the first since a spate of such attacks left eight dead last month.

A policeman assigned to protect the vaccination team was killed when gunmen opened fire on them in the Swabi district of northern Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, said Faazil Khan, a police official.

The two women, who made up the team, survived the attack and returned to their headquarters after the incident, he said.

The attack comes as 538 teams are going house-to-house in the area providing vaccinations, during a three day campaign. Each team has a security officer assigned to it.

The campaign is scheduled to end on Wednesday and will continue despite the attack, said Dr. Mohammad Riaz, who is in charge of the campaign.

Pakistan is one of three countries in the world where polio has yet to be eradicated.

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Read more: At the U.N., a vow to eradicate polio by 2015

Pakistanis have viewed polio vaccination campaigns with suspicion after the CIA's use of a fake vaccination program in 2011 to collect DNA samples from residents of Osama bin Laden's compound to verify the al Qaeda leader's presence there.

Bin Laden was killed by U.S. forces in May 2011.

In June, a Taliban commander in northwest Pakistan announced a ban on polio vaccines for children in the region as long as the United States continues its campaign of drone strikes in the region, the Taliban said.

CNN was not able to reach the Taliban for comment regarding the latest attacks.

Polio, a highly infectious viral disease that can cause permanent paralysis in a matter of hours, has been eradicated around the world except for three countries where it is endemic: Pakistan, Nigeria and Afghanistan.

After the number of cases spiked sharply last year, Pakistan stepped up its eradication efforts. The numbers fell from 173 in 2011 to 58 in 2012, according to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

Jounalist Zahir Shah Sherazi contributed to this report.

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