Gunmen in Pakistan wound WHO workers, agency says

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 17, 2012 9:55 AM
Gunmen in Pakistan wound WHO workers, agency says

GENEVA (Reuters) - Gunmen in Pakistan shot and wounded a staff member of the World Health Organization (WHO) and an expatriate consultant working for the United Nations health agency on Tuesday, the WHO said.

The two men, who were working on a polio immunization campaign, were in stable condition in hospital after their vehicle was fired on in Gadap Town, Karachi, it said.

The agency said its staff member was a Pakistani national, while police in Pakistan said the wounded consultant was Ghanaian.

"One WHO staff member and one international consultant were injured, when their vehicle was shot at by armed men," the Geneva-based agency said in a statement.

"At this point, there is no evidence to suggest that this was a deliberate or targeted attack against polio eradication efforts or WHO. WHO is grateful to the Pakistan authorities for launching an investigation into this event," the WHO said.

On June 16, a Pakistani militant group threatened action against anyone conducting polio vaccinations in the region where it is based, saying the health care drive was a cover for U.S. spies.

The group, based in North Waziristan and led by Hafiz Gul Bahadur, said it had banned vaccinations for as long as U.S. drone aircraft continued to fire missiles in Pakistan.

The WHO and its partner agencies are working to wipe out the crippling disease, which remains endemic in just three countries - Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan.

Some 200,000 mainly Pakistan volunteers are deployed in the vaccination campaign in the country, which some clerics have condemned.

"This incident will not distract from the progress Pakistan is making this year, as the country is closer than ever to eradication," the WHO said.

The country has recorded just 22 cases of polio so far this year through July 10, against 59 during the same period last year, WHO spokesman Oliver Rosenbauer said.

Pakistan is an increasingly dangerous environment for aid workers.

In May, the International Committee of the Red Cross stopped most of its work in Pakistan following the murder of a staff doctor in Quetta, pending a risk assessment of its operations in the country. An ICRC spokesman said on Tuesday that a "meticulous and serious" review was still ongoing.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Additional reporting by Katharaine Houreld in Pakistan; Editing by Diana Abdallah and Alessandra Rizzo)