Gunmen kill Pakistani officer escorting polio team

Updated 26 February 2013
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Gunmen kill Pakistani officer escorting polio team

PESHAWAR: Gunmen shot and killed a police officer yesterday who was protecting a team of polio workers during a UN-backed vaccination campaign in northwestern Pakistan.
It was the latest of several attacks on Pakistani efforts to eradicate the deadly disease, found in only three countries in the world. Militant extremists view the vaccination campaigns as Western-backed plots to gain intelligence in sensitive areas and have frequently targeted the medical staff and those protecting polio teams.
No polio workers were wounded in yesterday’s attack in the Mardan district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, said police officer Fazal Wahid. At least two attackers were hiding in a field near a narrow road as the polio workers walked by on their way to visit houses in the area, said Mardan Police Chief Inam Jan.
“The polio workers were going door-to-door and one police officer was protecting them when the gunmen suddenly attacked them near an open area and fled,” Jan said, adding that the police were searching for the attackers but that so far no one had been arrested.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack and it wasn’t immediately known whether the police officer was targeted because he was protecting the polio team or for some other reason.
Janbaz Afridi, a senior health official, said the polio vaccination campaign continued in various parts of the province yesterday despite the killing. “We have taken best possible steps for the safety of polio teams,” he said.
In 2012, humanitarian workers, including those working to prevent the polio spread, were repeatedly targeted. According to UN figures, 19 humanitarian workers were killed last year in Pakistan. Of those deaths, 11 were related to polio, including a rash of shootings in December when nine polio workers were killed across Pakistan. In an effort to protect people administering the vaccine, the government has increasingly sent police officers into the field along with the vaccinator. But they have come under attack as well.
On Jan. 29, gunmen riding on a motorcycle shot and killed a police officer protecting polio workers in the Swabi district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
Mazhar Nisar, a senior official working with the Prime Minister’s polio monitoring cell, said at least 11 members of polio teams have been killed in various parts of Pakistan since December. Some militant groups in Pakistan oppose the vaccination campaign, accusing health workers of acting as spies for the United States or the Pakistani government. They are also angered since it became known that a Pakistani doctor helped in the US hunt for Osama Bin Laden. The physician, Shakil Afridi, ran a hepatitis vaccination campaign on behalf of the CIA to collect blood samples from Bin Laden’s family at a compound in northwestern city of Abbottabad, where US commandos killed the Al-Qaeda leader in May 2011.
The samples were intended to help the US match the family’s DNA to verify Bin Laden’s presence there.
In the recently released film about the search for Bin Laden, “Zero Dark Thirty,” a short scene shows a man going to vaccinate people at the compound where Bin Laden was hiding.
The campaign however is portrayed in the movie as an anti-polio campaign, not anti-hepatitis.
The campaigns are made more complicated by the fact that many Pakistani residents are also suspicious of the repeated vaccination efforts going on across the country and fear the vaccines are intended to make Muslim children sterile.
Pakistan is one of the few remaining countries, along with Afghanistan and Nigeria, where polio is rampant. As many as 56 polio cases were reported in Pakistan during 2012, down from 190 in 2011. Most of the new cases in Pakistan were in the northwest, where the presence of militants makes it difficult to reach children for vaccination.
The virus usually infects children living in unsanitary conditions. It attacks the nerves and can kill or paralyze.


Afghan tribal leaders fight to end discrimination

An internally-displaced Afghan girl holds a mask as she walks outside a shelter at a refugee camp in Kabul, Afghanistan on Monday. (REUTERS)
Updated 3 min 15 sec ago
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Afghan tribal leaders fight to end discrimination

KABUL: Residents in the rugged and remote district of Musa Khail have traditionally considered it taboo to allow their girls to go to school.
But the fiercely independent Mangal tribe that dominates the district in southeastern Khost province has been suffering from enormous hardships due to this stubbornness; it means no school for girls in the villages and no female nurses or doctors to treat women.
The deeply conservative villagers, who abhor medical treatment of their female family members by men, have been sending them several hundred kilometers away to Kabul or to neighboring Pakistan for treatment by women — or bringing back female doctors to treat their women.
The villagers have been paying a high price as patients would sometimes die on the way to hospital, and having female doctors to operate in the district has been highly expensive.
Lately, local tribal chiefs and elders have put their foot down and at a local gathering issued a resolution making girls’ education compulsory.
Those who fail to send their daughters to school will have to pay fine of 5,000 Afghan afghani ($70) to the tribe, the officials said.
“This is an initiative, this is a revolution here,” Gulab Mangal, district chief of Musa Khail, who was present during the gathering, told Arab News by phone on Monday.
He said there that were only 25 schools for an estimated 20,000 boys in the district, but none at all for girls.

The villagers’ next struggle is to get the government or donors to provide funding for building schools for the district’s nearly 2,000 girls who are eligible to learn, he said.

Nasir Ahmad, head of education for Khost province, said that he will share the decision of the villagers with authorities in Kabul and sounded hopeful that a budget will be dedicated to build schools for girls in the district.

“Having schools for girls in Musa Khail will also encourage villagers in other parts to allow their girls to go school as people now understand the value of education and that they need it badly,” he told Arab News.

Liqatullah Mangal, a tribal chief from Musa Khail who is also a lawmaker from Khost, described the decision by tribal chiefs as revolutionary.

“The people know that without education they will not be able to live. People need women teachers and doctors in their homes and to have all of that they should send their girls to school. People’s perception has changed a lot,” he told Arab News.

“They say ‘why do I have to send my wife, daughter, or sister to be treated far away by a woman doctor, and why not send her to school to help us and other villagers,’” he said.