Why not the milkman or the mochi? Why use the vaccine campaign to find Bin Laden, asks Shahnaz Wazir Ali – Zofeen Ebrahim

Just when the government thought it had settled the anxieties and distrust about the polio vaccine that had erupted after the Dr Shakil Afridi episode, the recent killing of polio workers has come as a major setback for polio eradication efforts.

Afridi, former surgeon general in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas’ Khyber Agency has been convicted of treason by the court and sentenced to 33 years in prison for carrying out a CIA-led fake door-to-door hepatitis B vaccination drive to confirm the presence of Osama bin Laden in his Abbottabad home.

“In the tribal areas especially, it cast doubts on the intentions and integrity of our health workers,” states Shahnaz Wazir Ali, adviser on polio to Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf.

She says the vaccinators were looked upon with suspicion as spies roaming around to gather information and put in chips for drone attacks, and termed CIA’s using humanitarian activity for their intelligence gathering as “alarming and blatantly unfair”, as it jeopardised the health of the Pakistani children.

“I certainly think that it had a negative impact in contributing — along with other factors — to the boycott of the polio campaign in some areas, increased security threats, and specifically risking the lives of health workers,” declares Heidi J. Larson, who studies polio situation globally, but has particularly focused on Pakistan since 2011.

What was even more unfortunate is that even the United Nations chose not to protest risking fuelling tensions. Instead, said Larson, a former head of Unicef’s Global Immunisation Communication, the UN agencies “focused on anticipating and working to mitigate the potential negative impacts”.

“They could have used the milkman or the mochi (cobbler) to pursue their goals for all we care!” said a rankled Wazir Ali who is not sure if CIA’s strategy was worth the damage it caused to polio eradication endeavours.

However, through relentless campaigning, the apprehensions of the people regarding the vaccines are being addressed somewhat by involving political and religious leaders.

Updated Dec 30, 2012 04:29am

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Comments (4) (Closed)

Dec 30, 2012 10:36am
The recent killings of health workers have confirmed the fears about the negative fallout of CIA's fake campaign. We should be condemning not only the the attacks and their perpetrators, but also the CIA for its tactics which were in blatant disregard of the safety of health missions in Pakistan.
Ghalib Khan
Dec 30, 2012 08:12am
Do you really think Americans care, and also UNO for that matter, above all do you think this Govt. cares
Khan Usafzai
Dec 30, 2012 06:12pm
The taliban were always against vaccination even before this Fake CIA campaign ... they strongly opposed it there areas ...
Dec 30, 2012 08:10pm
Pakistan seems so deep in denial. I agree about the CIA's use of polio sites, but maybe even the so called mighty CIA cannot envision the absolute evil of these people. That Dr. Afridi is in jail is cruel and unfair. He thought he was fighting some very bad people and he thought he was helping Pakistan's 'ally.' Apparently, about the 'ally' part, he was wrong. Incidences like this is why we hear a cry in America to stop sending our money to Pakistan. The cry is louder now that our own economy is not so good. I often see quotes from Pakistanis lamenting their sovereignty when the drones kill some of the despicable people who are, almost daily, killing them. I know the belief is that American drones also kill thousand of innocent civilians. Don't we all have to question our beliefs? Especially when you consider the killers who put news like that out there? Even with the justice finally meted out to Mr. Bin Laden, we heard cries of anger. Sovereignty again. The denial is in the fact that the Taliban intend to take Pakistan's sovereignty, not the U.S. If the murderers gain control of Afghanistan, where will they go next? Too many in Pakistan would welcome them? If this is true, how very sad. Denial is a real killer. I know you cannot print this. I just had to get the anger out of my system. Writing it out helps, but please go ahead and delete. I wouldn't want to cause any trouble - if the likes of me could do that. I'm not exactly anyone important.