Sagher Ahmed, Health Minister for surrounding Sindh province, says the gunmen on Tuesday also wounded two men who were with the women.

Five members of the nationwide polio immunisation campaign were shot dead by unknown assailants in four separate incidents across the country on Tuesday. Three of the attacks took place in Karachi and the fourth in Peshawar, forcing the Sindh government to suspend the campaign.

All five of those killed were women and from all indications they had volunteered for the immunisation campaign. In two of the attacks in Karachi, a couple of men were also injured. According to project leaders in Karachi, they had received telephone calls warning of dire consequences for helping “the infidel” campaign against polio. Yet, relatives of one of the victims maintained that no security cover had been provided to those involved in the immunisation campaign.

The victim in Peshawar was a 17-year-old girl, her killing bringing back memories of the attack on teenaged Malala, again a victim of the mindset that wants to keep women out of the public domain.

Following these attacks in Karachi, the Sindh government decided to suspend the campaign — organised in collaboration with the World Health Organisation (WHO). This is not the first time that polio immunisation programme workers have been attacked in Karachi. Earlier this year, an international consultant of the WHO had been attacked in the metropolis and a doctor involved in the anti-polio drive had been shot dead near an immunisation camp.

The polio immunisation programme has over the past year-and-a-half come under severe strain owing to diktats issued by terrorists. In the tribal areas, the Taliban has banned the campaign, stating that the immunisation drops cannot be administered till drone attacks by the CIA continue. Also, according to them, the immunisation programme was a front for spying on people, a narrative that gained currency after it became evident that the CIA had used a health campaign to establish the presence of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad.

According to a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office after he chaired a meeting of the Polio Task Force, 56 cases of polio were reported in the country this year. As many as 198 cases were reported last year. Pakistan along with Afghanistan and Nigeria are the last three countries which reported polio cases this year. While Nigeria tops the list with 118 cases, Pakistan comes second with more cases than Afghanistan.