Policeman killed in Pakistan polio team attack

Members of a polio vaccination team in Pakistan were under attack by gunmen in Bajaur on Wednesday.

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BAJAUR, Pakistan // Gunmen killed a policeman guarding a polio vaccination team in Pakistan’s restive northwest on Wednesday – the latest attack on health workers trying to eradicate the crippling disease.

Pakistan is one of only three countries in the world where polio remains endemic but efforts to stamp it out have been badly hit in recent years by attacks on immunisation teams.

The country has seen 117 cases of polio so far this year, outstripping the 93 reported in the whole of 2013.

The latest attack was in Bajaur, one of seven tribal areas on the border with Afghanistan where polio is a particular problem.

“A member of the tribal police guarding a polio vaccination team was killed when the team came under attack in Damadola area of Bajaur agency,” said a local administration official Shah Nasim Khan.

He said the attackers lay in wait for the polio team in nearby fields before opening fire. The health workers escaped unharmed.

Nobody has so far claimed responsibility but the Pakistani Taliban have regularly attacked polio workers in the past, claiming the vaccination programme is a cover for espionage.

The last attack on polio workers in Pakistan came in March when a female volunteer was shot dead as she travelled to administer polio drops to children in the Soraki neighbourhood of Bannu.

The World Health Organisation declared a global "public health emergency" in early May after new polio cases began surfacing and spreading across borders from countries including Pakistan.

About 58 people including health workers and police providing security have been killed in militant attacks on polio vaccination teams in Pakistan since December 2012.

* Agence France-Presse