Authorities in northwestern Pakistan said Monday that at least six police officers were killed and nearly two dozen injured when a roadside bomb struck their truck in a remote region bordering Afghanistan.
The officers were traveling to Bajaur, a militancy-hit border district, to escort anti-polio workers on the first day of a weeklong national immunization drive. Witnesses reported that the powerful blast destroyed the police vehicle.
Rescue workers expected the death toll to increase, saying several officers among the injured were rushed to local hospitals in “critical condition.” The attack prompted local authorities to suspend the polio immunization campaign in the area.
The anti-state Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, claimed responsibility for the deadly bombing. The group, commonly known as the Pakistani Taliban, actively targets security forces in areas near and on the Afghan border.
Health officials said that during the immunization campaign launched Monday, anti-polio teams would go door to door across Pakistan’s 159 districts to administer vaccine drops to more than 44 million children under 5.
Pakistan and Afghanistan are the last two countries in which the highly infectious polio virus still paralyzes children. However, the cases in both countries significantly declined in 2023, with six reported in each.
With a population of about 241 million, Pakistan came close to eradicating polio in 2021, when it reported only one case of paralysis from the virus. However, the country saw a spike in 2022, with 20 confirmed cases of infection.
The World Health Organization said last month that political instability, insecurity in some districts, and vaccination boycotts continue to hinder anti-polio efforts, particularly in the Pakistani province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where Bajaur is located.
The province had four of the six polio cases the country reported in 2023.
The WHO has cautioned that polio vaccination programs in Pakistan and Afghanistan, which also reported six cases last year, continue to miss many children, posing a significant risk to gains made against the crippling disease. (VP/VOA)