The Guardian reports that the CIA concocted a fake vaccination campaign to gather intelligence on Osama Bin Laden near his hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

The doctor went to Abbottabad in March, saying he had procured funds to give free vaccinations for hepatitis B. Bypassing the management of the Abbottabad health services, he paid generous sums to low-ranking local government health workers, who took part in the operation without knowing about the connection to Bin Laden. Health visitors in the area were among the few people who had gained access to the Bin Laden compound in the past, administering polio drops to some of the children.

Afridi had posters for the vaccination programme put up around Abbottabad, featuring a vaccine made by Amson, a medicine manufacturer based on the outskirts of Islamabad.

In March health workers administered the vaccine in a poor neighbourhood on the edge of Abbottabad called Nawa Sher. The hepatitis B vaccine is usually given in three doses, the second a month after the first. But in April, instead of administering the second dose in Nawa Sher, the doctor returned to Abbottabad and moved the nurses on to Bilal Town, the suburb where Bin Laden lived.

What is most concerning to me about this ruse is the wider context in which this operation was conducted. Yes, I am glad that Bin Laden is no longer of this earth, but I wonder how many parents in Pakistan will now refuse to get their children vaccinated–particularly against polio?

Let me explain.

Polio is on the cusp of eradication. In 1988, when the Global Polio Eradication Initiative launched, there were an estimated 300,000 cases of polio worldwide. Last year, there were fewer than 2,000.  Polio has very nearly been wiped off the face of the earth, but it persists in four countries that are still considered endemic: Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and Nigeria. In India and Nigeria, Polio is only endemic in regions of the country that are a majority Muslim (and rural).

One of the great barriers to vaccination campaigns in these countries has been a stubbornly persistent rumor that the polio vaccine is a western plot to sterilize Muslim children. In 2007, the World Health Organization attributed a jump in the number of polio cases in Pakistan to a misinformation campaign by clerics on precisely this point.  From a 2007 article in The Guardian:

The parents of 24,000 children in northern Pakistan refused to allow health workers to administer polio vaccinations last month, mostly due to rumours that the harmless vaccine was an American plot to sterilise innocent Muslim children.

The disinformation – spread by extremist clerics using mosque loudspeakers and illegal radio stations, and by word of mouth – has caused a sharp jump in polio cases in Pakistan and hit global efforts to eradicate the debilitating disease.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recorded 39 cases of polio in Pakistan in 2006, up from 28 in 2005. The disease is concentrated in North-West Frontier Province, where 60% of the refusals were attributed to “religious reasons”.

“It was very striking. There was a lot of anti-American propaganda as well as some misconceptions about sterilisation,” said Dr Sarfaraz Afridi, a campaign manager with the WHO in Peshawar.

The scaremongering and appeals to Islam echoed a similar campaign in the Nigerian state of Kano in 2003, where the disease then spread to 12 polio-free countries over the following 18 months. Pakistan is one of just four countries where polio remains endemic. The others are Nigeria, India and Afghanistan.

To be sure, several responsible religious leaders are working to reverse these misconceptions. Since 2009, the Saudi government has administered a dose of the oral polio vaccine to every visitor who wishes to enter Mecca during the Hajj.  Still, this CIA ruse seems confirmed all the darkest fears that vaccination campaigns–particularly against polio–are part of some insidious American plot.

  • BritWales_UK

    Research historical recordings on covert sterilisations in South America.

  • BritWales_UK

    Any and all genuinely concerned Muslim parents and/or their governments are at liberty to consult the International Muslim organisations which have required resources plus funding necessary to rectify any medical tricks or medical blunders carried out by non-Muslim activists, regardless if detected before, during or after their deeds were done, whether good deeds or bad. i.e. The Muslims’ “Organization of Islamic Conference” (OIC) is the 2nd largest inter-governmental organisation after the United Nations which has membership of 57 states spread over 4 continents. The Organisation is the collective voice of the Muslim world and ensuring to safeguard and protect the interests of the Muslim world in the spirit of promoting international peace and harmony among various people of the world. The Organisation was established upon a decision of the historical summit which took place in Rabat, Kingdom of Morocco on 12th Rajab 1389 Hijra (25 September 1969) as a result of criminal arson at Al-Aqsa Mosque within occupied Jerusalem. Under the Charter, the Organisation aims, inter alia, to: 
    Enhance and consolidate the bonds of fraternity and solidarity among the Member States;Safeguard and protect the common interests and support the legitimate causes of the Member States and coordinate and unify the efforts of the Member States in view of the challenges faced by the Islamic world in particular and the international community in general;Respect the right of self-determination and non-interference in the domestic affairs and to respect sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of each Member State;Ensure active participation of the Member States in the global political, economic and social decision-making processes to secure their common interests;Reaffirm its support for the rights of peoples as stipulated in the UN Charter and international law;Strengthen intra-Islamic economic and trade cooperation; in order to achieve economic integration leading to the establishment of an Islamic Common Market;Exert efforts to achieve sustainable and comprehensive human development and economic well-being in Member States;Protect and defend the true image of Islam, to combat defamation of Islam and encourage dialogue among civilizations and religions;Enhance and develop science and technology and encourage research and cooperation among Member States in these fields;
    In order to realise these objectives, Member States shall act, inter alia, in accordance with the following principles:
    All Member States commit themselves to the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter;Member States are sovereign, independent and equal in rights and obligations;All Member States shall settle their disputes through peaceful means and refrain from use or threat of use of force in their relations;All Member States undertake to respect national sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of other Member States and shall refrain from interfering in the internal affairs of others;Member States shall uphold and promote, at the national and international levels, good governance, democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law.  

  • Ayesha Hasan

    Thank you for this succinct analysis. In a challenging environment such as Pakistan where distrust towards anything “foreign” is rampant and the intentions/motives of international organizations/development agencies/NGOs are constantly questioned this debacle will have a detrimental on health initiatives (and development in general). The local media coverage won’t help. Figuring out a way to meet the health needs of people and work towards eradicating polio is key to moving forward. But how? At risk of sounding glib couldn’t the CIA have organized real vaccination drives? They went to a lot of trouble so then why not just hand out the real thing and actually make a difference for the better?