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Fake polio campaign

July 17, 2011


MÉDECINS Sans Frontières has rightly condemned the use of a fake vaccination drive for “counterterrorism purposes”, a move that could jeopardise trust in the government’s attempts to curb the recent proliferation of polio in Pakistan. The story goes that a local doctor, now reportedly under arrest, was recruited by America’s Central Intelligence Agency to conduct a phoney anti-polio exercise in which DNA swabs were apparently collected from members of Osama bin Laden’s family in order to confirm the identity of the world’s most-wanted terrorist. The US clearly had its reasons to authenticate whether the person they now seemed to have had in the crosshairs was indeed Bin Laden. But the potential damage this move can do to Pakistan’s anti-polio campaign is simply inexcusable. The US has quite possibly played with the lives of children at risk to meet its own ends at any cost. If true, and nothing points to the contrary, this was a truly deplorable act that may set back Pakistan several years in its fight to eradicate polio, a disease that was almost wiped out in this country but has lately seen an upsurge in part due to the rising cross-border movement — both international and provincial — of displaced persons.

Pakistan faces enough problems when it comes to the anti-polio campaign. First they are the logistics involved in delivering oral drops to remote areas, many of which are wracked by militancy and where even security personnel fear to tread. Sadly, these are the very places where the anti-polio drive is needed most. Maintaining the cold chain that is vital to preserving the efficacy of the vaccine is no mean task either. But by no means do our problems begin or end there. For many years the country has witnessed a baseless propaganda campaign unleashed largely by clerics of a particularly narrow and ill-informed frame of mind that accuses the health authorities of sterilising this country’s children with anti-polio drops. Such challenges are difficult enough to face without the US throwing yet another spanner in the works and eroding public trust in a vital campaign.