Islamic fundamentalists continue to frustrate the polio vaccination programme in Pakistan. Thursday Taliban kidnapped four workers of the Expanded Programme Immunisation (EPI) in Peshawar, capital of the troubled North-West Frontier Province.
The four-member team headed by EPI technician Attaullah was visiting Peshawar's suburb towns Angoor Kaley, Akora, etc, near the Mohmand Agency when around a dozen armed Taliban took them into custody.
AdvertisementA senior official of the NWFP Health department requesting anonymity told The News that the Taliban in the Mohmand Agency had claimed responsibility for kidnapping the four EPI workers.
He said the Taliban took them into custody from Sakhi Pul in Peshawar and later shifted them to their interrogation centre in Mohmand Agency. However, residents of the area told The News the Taliban put them in their private jail in Peshawar.
The official also said that the Taliban took two motorcycles of the EPI team in their possession. He said that he had already directed the EPI team not to visit the Taliban-controlled towns in Peshawar but despite the fact that they had not travelled to the sensitive areas, the Taliban had arrested and imprisoned them.
"I am in touch with the people who arrested them and they told me the interrogation process will take some time as right now their senior commanders are out of town," explained the health department official.
He said the Taliban so far had not made any demand. He confirmed they had received several threats from Taliban, warning them of dire consequences if they went to their areas for polio vaccination campaign.
Only a couple of days ago the BBC had reported, "Health officials in north-western Pakistan say they have embarked on a polio vaccination drive in the Swat area without resistance from militants."
In 2006 Maulana Fazlullah, or the "Radio Mullah," started telling people on his FM radio sermons that the polio vaccine was intended to render their children impotent, a US plot.
The parents of 24,000 children, taken in by such campaigns, have refused to allow health workers to administer the vaccination.
In August of 2007, Dr. Cherag Hussain told Reuters the vaccination programme had been suspended because tribesmen had threatened to kill health aid workers.
Hoping perhaps things might have changed since, the health authorities resumed their vaccination project, only to rue their decision now.
The fate of the vaccination workers now hangs in balance.
In February last year, Abdul Ghani Khan, a chief government surgeon who was trying to allay misconceptions of the people over vaccination, was himself felled by a remote-controlled bomb.