More Damage from Panetta’s Vaccine Ruse: UN Doctor on Polio Vaccine Drive Shot; Hundreds of Thousands Denied Polio Vaccine

As one of only three countries in the world where polio is still endemic, Pakistan launched a three day vaccination drive yesterday with a target of vaccinating the 318,000 children in North and South Waziristan who have not received their vaccinations. Across all of Pakistan, the goal is to vaccinate 34 million children under the age of five. The drive is being held despite a push by the Taliban to prevent vaccinations in tribal areas. The Taliban’s ban on vaccinations is aimed at stopping US drone strikes in the tribal areas and is in response to the vaccination ruse by the CIA.  Dr. Shakeel Afridi pretended to be doling out hepatitis vaccines in a failed attempt to retrieve DNA samples for the CIA from the bin Laden compound when it was under surveillance prior to the attack that killed Osama bin Laden. Today, a UN doctor and his driver were wounded when a shooter opened fire on them in Karachi. The doctor was reported to be working on the vaccine program.

Dawn reported yesterday that a jirga was convened today in the tribal areas to try to find a solution to the Taliban’s vaccine ban. That article gives good background information on the ban:

Although a nationwide anti-polio campaign was launched on Monday, the authorities were yet to convince the Taliban shura on the importance of getting children of North and South Waziristan vaccinated against the debilitating disease.

/snip/

Commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur, who leads the powerful Taliban Shura, had banned the anti-polio drive in North Waziristan on June 16 and said that children would not take polio drops unless the government stopped drone strikes in the area.

He was followed by Commander Mullah Nazir in South Waziristan and other militant commanders in FRs D.I. Khan and Kohat.

In South Waziristan, the ban is much stricter because it prohibits vaccination against all eight childhood diseases, including polio.

“We have asked health workers to be careful and don’t put their lives at risk,” the official said, adding that they were waiting for the government’s response.

However, the Taliban ban is not the only barrier to vaccines:

He [the official quoted above] said the military operation in Orakzai and Khyber agencies was one of the factors which deprived children of the much needed vaccines.

Just the two tribal agencies of North and South Waziristan account for a large number of unvaccinated children:

According to sources, the political agent of North Waziristan has convened a jirga of local ulema and notables on Tuesday to find a solution to the problem posed by the Taliban vaccination ban that has deprived about 318,000 children of getting polio drops in the two agencies.

Although the warning above to doctors to be careful was issued in relation to vaccinations in the tribal areas, a doctor in the vaccination program came under fire today in Karachi:

Gunmen opened fire on a UN vehicle in Karachi Tuesday, wounding a foreign doctor working on a polio immunisation campaign and a local driver, officials said.

The shooting happened in the Soharb Goth neighbourhood of eastern Karachi on the second day of a widely publicised polio vaccination campaign.

Attacks on foreigners are rare in Karachi, but human rights activists say ethnic, sectarian and politically-linked violence has killed at least 740 people in the city so far this year alone.

“A WHO vehicle was fired upon with gunshots. One international staff and one local driver were injured in the incident,” Maryam Yunus, spokeswoman for the United Nations’ World Health Organisation, told AFP.

She said the doctor from Ghana and the Pakistani doctor[sic] had been transferred to a private hospital where their condition was stable.

The article on the shooting describes the vaccination ban as in protest of drones and in response to Afridi’s actions:

Local Taliban and Pakistani warlord Hafiz Gul Bahadur banned the vaccinations in the region of Waziristan to protest against US drone attacks.

They have condemned the immunisation campaign, which began nationwide on Monday, as a cover for espionage.

Pakistani doctor Shakeel Afridi was jailed for 33 years in May after helping the CIA find Osama bin Laden using a hepatitis vaccination programme as cover.

Fighting between government troops and local warlord Mangal Bagh also made it difficult to innoculate all children in Khyber district, officials said.

It seems that Leon Panetta’s approval of and subsequent public confirmation of Afridi’s vaccine ruse is a problem that just continues to affect the lives of more and more children every day. Although the Pakistani government’s vaccine drive is legitimate and urgently needed, Panetta’s poor judgment is putting that drive at risk and assuring that it will fall far short of the rate of vaccination needed to prevent a record year for polio cases in Pakistan.

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.
12 replies
  1. ondelette says:

    It appears to be more than just a response to the Afridi program, even just by what you’ve quoted. And firing on UN doctors administering a health program is a violation of international law — a war crime — no matter what the excuse.

  2. Jim White says:

    @ondelette: Indeed. I included the references twice to the fighting with Pakistan’s government to show that is a cause in those regions where it is occurring. But the Afridi angle is generating lots of headlines and fanning the situation considerably.

    And yes on the war crime for attacking the UN doctor. He had been working in that area for three months, so his targeting sure looks to be deliberate.

  3. ondelette says:

    @Jim White:
    I keep going back to the fact that polio was on the bring of being wiped out. Then the rumor went around fundamentalist Islam circles that the vaccine was a “crusader plot” to weaken Islam. That year at the Hajj, contagious polio carriers re-spread the disease worldwide again. So it isn’t just Dr. Afridi that creates suspicion of the vaccine for polio among fundamentalists on this one.

  4. MadDog says:

    One of my cousins has had to wear a brace on his leg from childhood on as a result of polio, so I’m particularly disturbed and offended about the CIA’s outright criminal stupidity and callousness to the lifetime of suffering they’ve caused for thousands and thousands of Pakistani children.

    Yes, Dr. Afridi’s malpractice was never meant to be discovered, but that is of no consequence at all because the very idea of the US government using a vaccination program whose goal is to save thousands and thousands of lives is not only unconscionable, but as contemptible a thing as one could possibly imagine.

    The US authors of this program deserve to be imprisoned for the rest of the lives. And even if they were, they’d have it easy compared to the polio sufferers who spend their entire lives in iron lungs.

  5. mlnw says:

    Panetta, who may become the next Secretary of State if Obama is reelected and Hillary is out to pasture, would like everyone to think he will be the next coming of Dean Acheson. He may well be- at least the D.A. who more or less had lost it in his later years when he was trundled out as an advisor during the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War. Panetta’s recent policy speech before the United State Institute of Peace is illustrative of what he thinks the U.S. should be doing (see http://www.defense.gov/Speeches/Speech.aspx?SpeechID=1691) and in articulating an expansionist foreign policy in concert with its “partners” devoid of reference to the UN Charter and international law respecting the sovereignty of independent nation states, it shows how culturally inept and contemptuous he is of the non-aligned third world countries, and how similar these policies are to those of the 19th century Western European imperialist countries in East, South and Southeast Asia.

    So, assume that the vaccination fiasco is illustrative, but not the only misadventure, one should expect.

  6. ondelette says:

    @Jim White: See, this is the way it is put in the Al Jazeera piece today about the two doctors who were shot:

    A health expert, speaking to the AFP news agency on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media, said the attack was the latest in an alarming trend of violence against polio workers.

    He said there had been threats and announcements in mosques branding the vaccine anti-Islam and blamed “a new wave of attacks on polio workers” on the CIA’s use of Pakistani doctor Shakeel Afridi to help find bin Laden.

    Get it? It’s the health expert who is drawing the connection.
    The mosques are saying that the vaccine is anti-Islam.

    It isn’t that such things aren’t a big deal, they are. It’s just that the resistance to polio vaccines by Islamic fundamentalists is that it’s supposed to be a plot to weaken Islam by the crusaders above and beyond anything Afridi did (which wasn’t polio vaccine anyway). The conspiracy theory actually started in Nigeria, and may have grown out of people seeing Brits worry about thimerosal and autism and measles vaccine. It took down the whole worldwide effort to eradicate polio just as it was poised to succeed and had nothing to do with the CIA. It continues to hamper vaccination efforts in India, in the Sahel, and elsewhere, including Pakistan, just like the measles thing still hampers vaccinations here and in Europe.

    And as unconscionable and illegal as the “vaccine program” by Afridi was, it is just as unconscionable to hold a legitimate vaccine program hostage for demands, and a violation of international law, as well. The 4th Geneva Convention requires them to make it possible for the distribution of medical provisions intended for children under 12. Sorry, but the law cuts both ways. They may make specifications on the workers distributing the vaccines, but achieving a military objective (demanding the end of drone attacks) isn’t one of the allowed ones.

  7. Jim White says:

    @ondelette: The article continues:

    The doctor was jailed for 33 years in May after helping the CIA find Osama bin Laden using a hepatitis vaccination programme as cover.

    “It has become a very serious and critical issue. People suspect foreigners involvement in the programme and fake campaign by Afridi has given further credence to conspiracy theory,” he said.

    He said polio workers were beaten in the capital Islamabad on Monday, a team fired on in the southern town of Jacobabad and a motorcycle stolen in the southwestern town of Ziarat.

    “It is an alarming situation because neither the government, nor international aid agencies have a clear strategy to deal with this issue,” he said.

    Like I said, the Afridi situation provided lots more headlines to the conspiracy spread by the fundamentalists.

    http://www.aljazeera.com/news/asia/2012/07/2012717111950925578.html

  8. earlofhuntingdon says:

    The return and spread of disease vectors that once dominated the globe in the days before antibiotics and global vaccination programs isn’t going to help anyone now is it.

    Perhaps US intel ops planners should have a few items added to their required reading list. I recommend Masque of the Red Death for starters.

  9. ondelette says:

    @Jim White:
    Yeah, well….

    He actually wasn’t jailed over the vaccination program. He was jailed for aiding “terrorist” groups against the state of Pakistan (treason). His appeal will be heard on July 19th.

    And the headlines are not read by the average Pakistani. It’s a side effect of the government’s public education program. The diatribes at the mosques though, they are heard.

    I have no doubt that there is a some Afridi in the violence. The people who got arrested for shooting the WHO workers were Afghan refugees. We’ll see.

    It’s really hard to blame everything on the CIA in general, even though the CIA is a despicable group. I just finished reading another article that blames all of what goes on in the DRC on coltan. I happen to know about a couple of things there that have to do one with food, and another with an old dispute over some cattle dating to 1985, and another that has to do with the Rwandan government’s aiding reprisals. I also know of a couple of brutal ones that have to do with coltan and artisanal mining, so the people who say the coltan stuff aren’t at all wrong, but they just don’t know about the other 40 some odd conflicts and motives there or something.

    Root causes in any war that has been going on for more than 10 years are nuts. The ICRC has been in Pakistan since 1947. What does that tell you?

    When I read about people saying, like Sherry Rehman did, that the drones are the biggest recruiters, I think, “Yeah, Sherry, and how much does your family pay the sharecroppers to work your family estates? The TTP pays more. But that isn’t a recruitment tool, is it?”

    I’m just sayin’. The one percent in Pakistan would love it if the CIA were to blame for all that’s wrong there.

Comments are closed.