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Health Clinics Attacked in Nigeria

8 February 2013 1:45 pm
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A gunman or gunmen shot and killed as many as 11 people this morning at two health clinics in Kano state in northern Nigeria. The shootings follow close on the heels of the targeted assassination of nine polio workers and other aid workers in Pakistan in December and January. Several media outlets are reporting that the victims in Kano were polio vaccinators as well and have speculated that the terrorist group Boko Haram is involved.

Details are murky, and it is unclear who and how many people were killed, says Oliver Rosenbauer, spokesperson for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, at the World Health Organization (WHO), which is following the events closely.

The picture that has emerged so far is that at 9:30 this morning local time, one or several gunmen attacked two health clinics in rapid succession. No one has claimed responsibility.

The government of Kano is investigating and, as a precaution, it has halted any polio vaccination activities that might be under way. WHO has also pulled its polio staff members from the field and asked them to work from home.

Nigeria is one of three remaining countries, along with Afghanistan and Pakistan, where polio remains endemic. The government and the international agencies in the eradication initiative have intensified campaigns there in recent months to wipe out the virus. As part of those efforts, vaccinators go door to door delivering drops of oral polio vaccine to children. The most recent campaign in Kano ended on 5 February, but sometimes the polio workers continue "mop up" activities for several days.

"Our sympathy goes out to the victims and the families," says Rosenbauer, who calls the events "tragic" and "outrageous."

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