DIR -- Gunmen killed at least two policemen in an attack on a polio vaccination security team in Lower Dir District, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), Wednesday (December 18).
The personnel were part of a nationwide anti-polio drive launched this week, aiming to inoculate tens of millions of children in Pakistan -- one of only two countries where the crippling disease remains endemic. The other country is Afghanistan, its neighbour.
Two gunmen on a motorcycle carried out the attack in the Lal Qila area of KP, near the border with Afghanistan, as police were gathering at a health centre before heading out with polio vaccinators, said police official Arif Shahbaz.
"The vaccinators were unhurt," added Shahbaz. Another police officer confirmed the incident and the toll.
Regression in war on polio
The attack comes during a devastating year in Pakistan's long fight against the disease, with at least 104 cases reported in 2019 so far.
Last year, just 12 cases were reported.
Nobody immediately claimed responsibility for the slayings, but the Pakistani Taliban and other militants have targeted polio vaccinators in the past.
Vaccination campaigns have faced stubborn resistance for years in Pakistan, with many refusing to have their children inoculated because of misinformation and conspiracy theories.
As Pakistan tries to reach its goal of eliminating polio from its territory, a new challenge has emerged in the form of a growing global movement against vaccinations.
The phenomenon has attracted adherents worldwide, fuelled by medically baseless claims and circulated by social media, resulting in a resurgence of formerly eradicated, highly contagious diseases.