Five female polio vaccination workers were fatally shot in a series of shootings in Pakistan Tuesday. The attacks took place in the cities of Karachi and Pershawar. The Pakistani government has suspended vaccinations in Karachi.
"Never before have female health workers been targeted like this in Pakistan," Shahnaz Wazir Ali, an advisor on polio to Prime Minister Minister Ashraf said, according to The New York Times.
One of the victims was a 17-year-old schoolgirl volunteer, The Guardian reports.
Over the past 25 years, the global polio immunization effort has helped reduce the number of countries the diseases affects from 120 to three, The NY Times reports. These countries include Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria.
Tuesday's shootings are a setback to the progress made in the fight against the endemic, but UN officials say the polio drive will be revived after an investigation into the situation is done, and vaccination workers have a chance to regroup. Similar attacks have occurred in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and workers were able to resume their polio fighting efforts.
No group has taken responsibility for the shootings, but the Taliban has issued threats against the polio drive in the past, BBC News reports.
According to The NY Times, the Taliban has accused the United States of using the anti-polio program as a cover-up for espionage.
Militant groups have grown suspicious and more angry over immunization drives, especially since in 2011, a fake CIA hepatitis vaccination campaign helped to locate and kill Osama Bin Laden, BBC News reports.
In the past, militants have kidnapped and even killed foreign NGO workers in the past to try and put an end to these immunization drives.
Recently, the victims of Tuesday's shootings had received death threats, their relatives told The Guardian.