Now that the CIA has acknowledged running a deceptive, if not totally fake, vaccination program in Pakistan as part of the effort months ago to hunt down Osama bin Laden, here are three reasons why this episode is prompting an angry response by those who work against global poverty and disease:
- This isn’t just about vaccines — about fighting terrorism vs fighting polio.
- Health workers and aid workers overseas have to be seen as neutral and independent if they are to operate effectively and safely.
- National security isn’t achieved just by hunting and killing bad guys. It’s also achieved through humanitarian efforts, aid efforts and other forms of international collaboration based on mutual trust.
So let’s review where we are so far with the strange case of “The Immunizer of Abbottabad.”
After The Guardian on Monday first revealed this bizarre scheme aimed at collecting DNA from bin Laden family members, the CIA apparently has confirmed to the Washington Post that it did set up the vaccination program in northern Pakistan. Here’s what some anonymous official reportedly told the newspaper:
A senior U.S. official said the vaccine campaign was conducted by medical professionals and should not be construed as a “fake public health effort.”
“People need to put this into some perspective,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. “The vaccination campaign was part of the hunt for the world’s top terrorist, and nothing else.”
“If the United States hadn’t shown this kind of creativity, people would be scratching their heads asking why it hadn’t used all tools at its disposal to find bin Laden.”
Actually, many seem to be scratching their heads asking how the Central Intelligence Agency (given its middle name) came up with such a far-fetched scheme — it doesn’t appear to have worked — and how it can argue with a straight face that this was, in addition to a covert op, a legitimate vaccination program.
To begin with, just giving kids a real Hepatitis B vaccine doesn’t mean it’s not fake public health. Continue reading