ISLAMABAD: The UN children's agency Unicef and the World Health Organisation (WHO) suspended work on campaigns against polio in Pakistan on Wednesday after a series of attacks left nine health workers dead in three days.
Unicef spokesman Michael Coleman said the two organisations halted polio work in Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces on Tuesday after attacks in Karachi and Peshawar, but extended the suspension nationwide after fresh bloodshed on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, gunmen shot dead a woman working on UN-backed polio vaccination efforts and her driver in northwestern Pakistan, officials said, just a day after similar attacks across the country killed five female polio workers.
The killings are a major setback for a campaign that international health officials consider vital to contain the crippling disease but which Taliban insurgents say is a cover for espionage.
In Wednesday's attack, the woman and her driver were gunned down in the northwestern town of Charsadda, said senior government official Syed Zafar Ali Shah. He said gunmen targeted two other polio teams in the same town, but no one was wounded in those attacks.
Earlier in the day in the northwestern city of Peshawar, gunmen shot a polio worker in the head, wounding him critically, said Janbaz Afridi, a senior health official. There were also attacks Wednesday on polio workers in the cities of Charsadda and Nowshera, but no casualtties were reported there.
Militants accuse health workers of acting as spies for the US and claim the vaccine makes children sterile.
The Taliban in the lawless northwestern tribal region also blame the US drone strikes for their opposition to the vaccinations.
On Tuesday, gunmen killed five female polio workers in a spree of attacks in several southern and northwestern cities, prompting authorities to suspend the vaccination campaign in the southern Sindh province.
The three-day campaign, which started on Monday, continued in the northwest and elsewhere in the country.
Taliban spokesman Ahsanullah Ehsan claimed responsibility for the attacks on Tuesday. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Wednesday's killings.