Gunmen kill two policemen guarding Pakistan polio team

A nurse prepares a vaccine.

A nurse prepares a vaccine. Pakistan and neighbouring Afghanistan are the only countries where polio remains endemic.

Photo credit: File | AFP

Two officers guarding a polio vaccination team in northwest Pakistan were shot dead by unidentified assailants, police said Tuesday, the latest deaths in an ongoing campaign to eradicate the disease.

Pakistan and neighbouring Afghanistan are the only countries where polio remains endemic, but vaccination teams have been targeted for years by Islamic militants in both nations.

"Two gunmen hiding near a small water channel opened fire on the policemen from a very close range," senior officer Waqar Ahmad Khan told AFP.

"The gunmen spared the two-member polio vaccination team... and fled on a motorbike."

The incident happened in Kot Azam, Tank district, close to tribal districts where the military has clashed with militants since 2003.

Scores of polio workers and security officials guarding them have been killed since 2012 by militants who claim vaccination programmes are part of a Western plot to sterilise Muslims.

Another conspiracy theory holds that the vaccines contain pig fat and are therefore banned by Muslims.

Islamist opposition to inoculation campaigns grew after the CIA organised a fake vaccination drive to help track down Al Qaeda's former leader Osama Bin Laden in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad.

In April, Pakistan reported the first case of polio in 15 months.

Since then 14 polio more cases have been reported -- all from the same ultra-conservative district where many villagers are against vaccines.

The United States reported its first case of polio in almost a decade in July, while Britain said last week that around one million children in London will be offered a booster vaccine after the virus was detected in sewage samples.