5 female teachers killed: Pakistan aid work imperiled
The daylight killing of the five teachers and two health workers stokes worries that public health campaigns will suffer and lead to a resurgence of diseases like polio.
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Distrust of public health initiatives like the polio campaign is particularly strong in districts of Pakistan where religious extremists have tightened their grip. That sentiment deepened in 2011 after the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden. A CIA-led operation to confirm Mr. bin Laden’s location in the city of Abbottabad used a hepatitis B vaccination campaign to gather DNA evidence on bin Laden.
The recent attacks are likely to further frighten people from working with foreign and Pakistani aid and development organizations, says Bushra Arain, chairwoman for the All Pakistan Lady Health Workers Welfare Association, which counts more than 100,000 registered members.
“We are the backbone of Pakistani health sector. If the attacks continue, with the state showing the inability it currently is demonstrating in stopping us from being targeted, we will stop working,” Ms. Arain says.
The Taliban and affiliated groups are targeting aid workers for several reasons, says Khadim Hussain, who heads one of the largest private charity school networks in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. First, the militants think aid groups have an anti-Muslim agenda, spying on the local population, a suspicion that was deepened by the raid on bin Laden. Secondly, the groups equate health campaigns with modernizing society, in opposition to some fundamentalist tenets for Islamic radicals. Some groups also believe the vaccine is intended to sterilize Muslim children.
“If the attacks by the Taliban continue, there will be widespread de-motivation amongst aid workers, which I am already witnessing,” Mr. Hussain says.
While some development advocates say there needs to be a coordinated, public response by Pakistani and foreign NGOs to the attacks, others say the government should stop public education campaigns altogether and just allow aid workers to operate quietly.
“The less attention we get, the less vulnerable we will be as targets for the terrorists,” Ms. Arain says.
“We are involved with anti-polio drive, infant health awareness programs, family planning, etc. and if the government does not pull its act together, many deadly diseases can spread rapidly in Pakistan,” she says. “The situation can get out of hand.”
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