Pakistan Polio Workers Attacked Dec 2012 – General Media Coverage, Opinion

Accessed 22 December 2012
Pakistani attacks on aid workers
Killing disease – Grisly attacks in Pakistan target those doing good to children
Dec 22nd 2012 | ISLAMABAD | from the print edition

ON DECEMBER 18th five health workers, all women, were gunned down in Pakistan in carefully planned and co-ordinated shootings. They were administering polio vaccinations. The following day a vaccination supervisor and her driver were killed. Several health workers are critically injured. The youngest killed was a 17-year-old in the north-western town of Peshawar. Others were working in poor, ethnic Pushtun districts in the southern megacity of Karachi, where polio workers have already been killed this year. The Pakistani Taliban or allied groups are the murderers, and they have now caused the UN to suspend its campaign to eradicate polio in Pakistan.

The country is one of only three countries left where polio is endemic, leading the world in 2011 in cases of the crippling childhood disease. It had been making progress in 2012. The country, backed by the UN, was striving urgently to immunise 34m children. Almost all the polio cases are among Pushtuns, who live mainly in north-west Pakistan or in Karachi. They also form the main ethnic group in the Pakistani Taliban.

The extremists spread the rumour that polio drops are a Western conspiracy to sterilise Muslims. As it is, the credibility of health workers has been badly shaken by the revelation in 2011 that the CIA had recruited a Pakistani doctor, Shakil Afridi. He set up a fake vaccination programme, for hepatitis B, as part of the hunt that finally killed Osama bin Laden. Militants also use polio to press the government. They say they will refuse to allow immunisations in North or South Waziristan, part of the wild tribal areas, unless attacks by unmanned American drone aircraft are stopped.

The climate for humanitarian workers has not been improved by the authorities. They have harassed aid professionals, restricting their movements and limiting visas, fearing that spies lurk among them. In 2012 the Red Cross halted much of its work in Pakistan after a British doctor was kidnapped in the western city of Quetta and beheaded.

The prime minister, Raja Pervez Ashraf, insists that “we will stay the course until polio is wiped out”. If the country fails, new generations of children will have their lives blighted by this wholly preventable disease.

New Yorker
Accessed 22 December 2012
December 18, 2012
The C.I.A. and the Polio Murders
Posted by Michael Specter

Scientists, with the help of public-health workers, have managed to wipe just two diseases from the face of the earth: smallpox and rinderpest (otherwise known as cattle plague). This year, it had begun to look as if we would soon add another name to that list, a virus that has been a paralytic threat for millennia: polio.

The effort took a devastating step backward yesterday, with the news that six public-health workers were killed in Pakistan; all had been administering polio vaccines. Earlier this year, the World Health Organization declared the eradication of polio to be a world-wide health emergency (a designation which makes it easier to release funds). It did so primarily because the end seemed in sight. Just three countries continue to report infections: Pakistan,  Afghanistan, and Nigeria. As soon as the news of the murders spread, however, the health minister for Pakistan’s southern Sindh Province put a halt to the vaccination program, which had employed more than twenty-four thousand aid workers. The risks of this detour, which will leave tens of thousands of people vulnerable to new infections, cannot be overstated.

Nobody has yet claimed responsibility for the coördinated attacks, but the Taliban has opposed polio vaccination vigorously. Taliban leaders have issued several religious edicts saying that the U.S. runs a spy network under the guise of a vaccine program. Now, there is no question that this is a depraved, heartless, and sickening act. But, as I wrote in a post here more than a year ago, the claim about the C.I.A. is not entirely untrue. In 2011, American intelligence, in a stunning display of arrogance, stupidity, or both, faked a vaccination drive as a cover for its attempt to pin down the location of Osama bin Laden. (The idea was to get DNA samples from the children in the Abbottabad compound while injecting them with a dummy vaccine, and then compare them to those of bin Laden’s relatives.) There is a history here, and somebody in the American intelligence community should have known it. The world was close to eradication in 2004 as well. Then several mullahs in northern Nigeria campaigned against polio vaccinations—claiming they were part of a Western plot. The result was that people who were infected went to Mecca on the hajj and spread their disease to people from many countries.

Pakistan’s attitude toward those who are associated with the C.I.A. has not exactly been a secret. After the raid on bin Laden’s compound, the doctor who tried to obtain the DNA was arrested and sentenced to thirty-three years in prison. I don’t mean to lay these crimes on anyone other than the murderers. But the sickness and death caused by a renewed polio epidemic in South Asia would make today’s tragedy seem small. Again, we should hold the killers responsible for this terrible reversal. But at least some of blame lies in the swamplands of Langley, Virginia.

Read more:

New York Times
Accessed 22 December 2012.
Female Vaccination Workers, Essential in Pakistan, Become Prey
Published: December 20, 2012

Accessed 22 December 2012
FEATURE-Violence, fear & suspicion imperil Pakistan’s war on polio
Sat Dec 22, 2012 8:34pm EST
– Conspiracy theories undermine anti-polio fight
– Health workers afraid to go to work
– High stakes in fight against a crippling disease
By Mehreen Zahra-Malik

Washington Post
Accessed 22 December 2012
Michael Gerson, Opinion Writer
In Pakistan, Taliban makes healers the targets
The murder of nine polio vaccination workers during 48 hours in Pakistan has all the hallmarks of a Taliban operation: coordinated, ruthless and monstrous. The attacks have succeeded in shutting down an anti-polio campaign in Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi, and other areas…