LAGOS, Nigeria (CNN) — Nine health workers who were administering polio vaccinations were killed Friday in the northern Nigerian city of Kano, a police spokesman told CNN.
The victims, eight women and one man, were working for a government program established to vaccinate people across Nigeria. The killings are under investigation; police said they have no suspects.
UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) released a statement condemning the attacks.
“Such attacks are a double tragedy; for the health workers and their families and for the children and vulnerable populations who are robbed of basic life-saving health interventions. These attacks are unacceptable under any circumstance,” the groups said.
Polio, a highly infectious viral disease that can cause permanent paralysis in a matter of hours, remains endemic in three countries — Pakistan, Nigeria and Afghanistan — according to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. The disease has also staged a comeback in three countries that were previously polio-free: Angola, Chad and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Efforts to eradicate polio are sometimes complicated by violence, local politics and rumors.
One Nigerian doctor and leader said in 2003 that the polio vaccine “can give the AIDS virus and that it contains contaminants that are likely to cause cancer in the human body.”
Unfounded fears of disease and infertility led three states in Nigeria to suspend polio immunization programs.
In Pakistan, at least eight health workers administering polio vaccinations were killed in December.
Pakistanis have viewed polio vaccination campaigns with suspicion after the CIA’s use of a fake vaccination program to collect DNA samples from residents of Osama bin Laden’s compound to verify the al Qaeda leader’s presence there.
Bin Laden was killed by U.S. forces in May 2011.