FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The CIA and the Misuse of Public Health

by

One of my most persistent memories of my friend Dr. Albert Sabin, who developed an oral vaccine against polio was how, when we met after one of my health-related missions overseas, he would question me about the polio situation in the country I visited. I am sure he would be dismayed at the return of polio in many countries, and even more so when this phenomenon is due to the spurious use of public health programs.

In July 2011, an investigation carried out by The Guardian revealed that the CIA had organized a false vaccination program where Bin Laden was reportedly hiding, as a way to obtain DNA samples from the al-Qaida leader’s family. The CIA had been monitoring the compound were Bin Laden was believed to be living, but the agency wanted confirmation of this fact before mounting a risky operation in another country.

If it could be obtained, DNA from any of Bin Laden’s children could then be compared with a DNA sample from a Bin Laden sister who had died in Boston in 2010, to establish that the family was then at the compound.

A Pakistani doctor, Shakil Afridi, organized a hepatitis B vaccination campaign to be carried out at Abbottabad, the town where Bin Laden was believed to be hiding. Health workers were among the few people who had visited the compound before to administer polio drops to some of the children.

After the deception was revealed by the British newspaper, however, the ruse had an unexpected outcome. Angry villagers in several tribal areas on the Afghan border chased away legitimate health workers. They accused those workers of being spies who wanted to gather information on the people living in that region.

The unfortunate result is that many children were not vaccinated against polio and the disease made a come back in areas from where it had been practically eliminated. Paradoxically, the cover used by Dr. Afridi wasn’t the polio vaccine but the hepatitis B vaccine. “There could hardly have been a more stupid venture, and there was bound to be a backlash, especially for polio,” stated Dr. Zulfiqar A. Bhutta, an immunization expert at Aga Khan University in Karachi, Pakistan. According to many experts’ opinion, this provoked one more set back in the war against polio which by many assessments could have ended in 2000.

For many years, polio immunization campaigns have been a source of controversy among Muslims in many countries. Rumors associated with the vaccine: that it carries the HIV, that is unclean under Islamic law or that it is a Western plot to sterilize Muslim girls, have led to many people in Muslim countries to reject the vaccine. This has resulted in the resurgence of polio in those countries.

This is the case of Nigeria, where in 2003, the governors of three states in Northern Nigeria – Kano, Kaduna and Zamfara – decided to suspend polio immunization until the vaccines were investigated and proven safe. Although tests conducted at the National Hospital Abuja and at a laboratory in South Africa showed that the vaccines were uncontaminated, the Kano state government declared that its own tests showed the vaccine contained estrogen in quantities that could lower fertility in women.

As a result, polio, which had been eradicated from almost all of Nigeria, made a comeback not only in Kano but in other parts of Nigeria including Lagos, the nation’s commercial capital. Afterwards, Nigerian strains of the polio virus appeared in several West and central African countries such as Benin, Togo, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon and Central African Republic.

We thus have a situation where both founded and unfounded beliefs have led people in several countries to reject immunization against a disease that by many criteria should now be a fact of history. And this is happening at a time when polio’s resurgence has been called a “global emergency” by the World Health Organization (WHO). According to that agency, the first few months of 2014 have seen a significant rise in polio infections across the globe.

As things stand now, a coordinated international response is imperative, as is the commitment of political leaders not to use public health campaigns for spurious political means.

Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award.

Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of the 1979 Overseas Press Club of America award for the article “Missing or Disappeared in Argentina: The Desperate Search for Thousands of Abducted Victims.”

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

Weekend Edition
August 26, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Louisa Willcox
The Unbearable Killing of Yellowstone’s Grizzlies: 2015 Shatters Records for Bear Deaths
Paul Buhle
In the Shadow of the CIA: Liberalism’s Big Embarrassing Moment
Rob Urie
Crisis and Opportunity
Charles Pierson
Wedding Crashers Who Kill
Richard Moser
What is the Inside/Outside Strategy?
Dirk Bezemer – Michael Hudson
Finance is Not the Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Bernie’s Used Cars
Margaret Kimberley
Hillary and Colin: the War Criminal Charade
Patrick Cockburn
Turkey’s Foray into Syria: a Gamble in a Very Dangerous Game
Ishmael Reed
Birther Tries to Flim Flam Blacks  
Brian Terrell
What Makes a Hate Group?
Andrew Levine
How Donald Trump Can Still be a Hero: Force the Guardians of the Duopoly to Open Up the Debates
Howard Lisnoff
Trouble in Political Paradise
Terry Tempest Williams
Will Our National Parks Survive the Next 100 Years?
Ben Debney
The Swimsuit that Overthrew the State
Ashley Smith
Anti-imperialism and the Syrian Revolution
Andrew Stewart
Did Gore Throw the 2000 Election?
Vincent Navarro
Is the Nation State and Its Welfare State Dead? a Critique of Varoufakis
John Wight
Syria’s Kurds and the Wages of Treachery
Lawrence Davidson
The New Anti-Semitism: the Case of Joy Karega
Mateo Pimentel
The Affordable Care Act: A Litmus Test for American Capitalism?
Roger Annis
In Northern Syria, Turkey Opens New Front in its War Against the Kurds
David Swanson
ABC Shifts Blame from US Wars to Doctors Without Borders
Norman Pollack
American Exceptionalism: A Pernicious Doctrine
Ralph Nader
Readers Think, Thinkers Read
Julia Morris
The Mythologies of the Nauruan Refugee Nation
George Wuerthner
Caving to Ranchers: the Misguided Decision to Kill the Profanity Wolf Pack
Ann Garrison
Unworthy Victims: Houthis and Hutus
Julian Vigo
Britain’s Slavery Legacy
John Stanton
Brzezinski Vision for a Power Sharing World Stymied by Ignorant Americans Leaders, Citizens
Philip Doe
Colorado: 300 Days of Sunshine Annually, Yet There’s No Sunny Side of the Street
Joseph White
Homage to EP Thompson
Dan Bacher
The Big Corporate Money Behind Jerry Brown
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
DNC Playing Dirty Tricks on WikiLeaks
Ron Jacobs
Education for Liberation
Jim Smith
Socialism Revived: In Spite of Bernie, Donald and Hillary
David Macaray
Organized Labor’s Inferiority Complex
David Cortright
Alternatives to Military Intervention in Syria
Binoy Kampmark
The Terrors of Free Speech: Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act
Cesar Chelala
Guantánamo’s Quagmire
Nyla Ali Khan
Hoping Against Hope in Kashmir
William Hughes
From Sam Spade to the Red Scare: Dashiell Hammett’s War Against Rightwing Creeps
Raouf Halaby
Dear Barack Obama, Please Keep it at 3 for 3
Charles R. Larson
Review: Paulina Chiziane’s “The First Wife: a Tale of Polygamy”
David Yearsley
The Widow Bach: Anna Magdalena Rediscovered
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail