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Polio Worker’s Murder Highlights Plight of Vaccination Drive

12 Apr 2019 Gandhara - RFE/RL

MOHMAND, Pakistan -- Walid Ali had worked tirelessly to cleanse a remote, impoverished corner of northwestern Pakistan of the crippling disease polio.

But his family is now reeling from his untimely death. Earlier this week, Wajid was allegedly killed by a man after a reported remonstration over his refusal to vaccinate his children.

“He said, ‘I am paid to serve the children of our nation, and I want to do this honestly,’” his elderly father, Malik Bakhth Muneer, told Radio Mashaal of the last conversation he had with his son. It was the morning of April 8, before Wajid left to vaccinate children in the rural district of Mohmand in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.

Munir says that a few hours later he received the news of his son’s murder in the nearby town of Ghalani, which serves as the administrative headquarters of Mohmand.

Wajid’s cousin Farooq Mohmand is a physician. He told Radio Mashaal it was Wajid’s dedication that convinced him to give up his job abroad and return to Mohmand to serve his people.

He says he began his new job on April 8.

“I called his friend after hearing about the incident,” Mohmand said. “But when I reached the hospital where he was taken, he had already passed away. He was martyred.”

Wajid is among scores of polio workers killed for doing their jobs after a Taliban insurgency emerged in Mohmand and other regions in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa following the demise of the Taliban regime in neighboring Afghanistan in late 2001.

Militants have targeted health workers because they allege the immunization campaign is a cover for Western spies and part of a conspiracy to sterilize Muslim children.

Wajid is survived by his widow and their twin children. Spogmai Ali and Majid Ali are only eight months old and will never know their father. As guests offered the customary condolence prayers, the twins clung to their uncle, Sajid Ali, unaware of the tragedy the family was going through.

“Now, they are our only consolation,” Muneer said. “He was a great support to my family. After he started his job [two years ago], he took care of his ill mother by paying for her treatment.”

Officials have accused two men of Wajid’s killing and have arrested one of them.

“I give Wajid's family my word that I will personally follow this case to its conclusion,” said Babar Atta, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan's special adviser on polio. “Parents can refuse polio vaccination, but attacking and then killing innocent polio workers will not be tolerated, no matter what.”

The World Health Organization also condemned Wajid’s murder.

“We strongly condemn this and any attack targeting healthcare staff like Mr. Ali who are working hard to rid the world of polio and other diseases," said WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean Ahmed Al-Mandhari. "Health care should never be a target, and WHO and our partners will not be deterred by such attacks.”

Globally Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria are the only three countries where the crippling disease remains endemic. An external review for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative last year indicated that insurgent violence and difficulties in vaccinating children hamper the eradication drive in Pakistan.

“The only tribute we can pay to those who have sacrificed their lives to protect Pakistani children from the death and lifelong disability polio brings is to complete their mission and eradicate polio from Pakistan,” said Ni’ma Abid, acting WHO representative for Pakistan.

– With reporting by the Telegraph

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