An anti-polio campaign was suspended on Thursday in 18 union councils of Pakistan’s troubled Baluchistan province as authorities failed to provide timely and proper security cover to health workers and volunteers. The campaign was suspended after health workers complained of inadequate security cover for them.

The polio health workers fear for their security since militants have attacked them in the past. Last November, four polio health workers, including three women, were killed when gunmen attacked an anti-polio team in Quetta’s Eastern Bypass area.

The Baluchistan Health Department with the cooperation of Unicef and other international agencies has drawn an ambitious plan of providing anti-polio vaccine drops to around 400,000 infants in Quetta in the ongoing campaign. The campaign, during its first phase, was launched in 18 union councils yesterday. Baluchistan is considered a high risk area for polio and polio samples have been found in the environment of Quetta. This year alone three polio cases have been reported in Baluchistan’s Killa Abdullah, Loralai and Quetta areas.

The Baluchistan health department plans to administer anti-polio drops to around 1.2 million children in different districts of the province. Pakistan is one of only three countries along with Afghanistan and Nigeria where the polio virus is still endemic. Militant groups often attack polio teams as they see vaccination campaigns a cover for espionage. There are also long running rumours about polio drops causing infertility.

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