New attacks on polio teams in Pakistan kill 2

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Pakistani relatives transport the dead body of a female polio worker who was killed by gunmen at a local hospital in Peshawar, Pakistan, Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012. Gunmen killed several people working on a government polio vaccination campaign in two different Pakistani cities on Tuesday, officials said. The attacks were likely an attempt by the Taliban to counter an initiative the militant group has long opposed. (AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad)

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — Gunmen shot dead a woman working on U.N.-backed polio vaccination efforts and her driver in northwestern Pakistan on Wednesday, officials said, just a day after similar attacks across the country killed five female polio workers.

The killings prompted the world health body to suspend the vaccination campaign in two of Pakistan's four provinces on Wednesday.

The attacks 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 casualties were reported there.

Maryam Yunus, a spokeswoman for the World Health Organization in Pakistan, said their polio staff have been pulled back from the field and asked to work from home until the campaign ends later Wednesday.

On Tuesday, WHO and UNICEF condemned the attacks, saying they deprive Pakistan's most vulnerable populations — specifically children — of basic life-saving health interventions.

"We call on the leaders of the affected communities and everyone concerned to do their utmost to protect health workers and create a secure environment so that we can meet the health needs of the children of Pakistan," the statement said.

Pakistan is one of only three countries where polio is endemic. Militants accuse health workers of acting as spies for the U.S. and claim the vaccine makes children sterile.

The Taliban in the lawless northwestern tribal region also blame the U.S. 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, at the time 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.

So far no group has claimed responsibility for the attacks on polio teams.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province has witnessed scores of attacks, most of them blamed on the Taliban. On Saturday, Taliban suicide bombers attacked a Pakistani air force base in Peshawar, killing four people.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for that attack but distanced themselves from attacks on the polio teams.