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.

More articles by:

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.”

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

June 27, 2017
Jim Kavanagh
California Scheming: Democrats Betray Single-Payer Again
Jonathan Cook
Hersh’s New Syria Revelations Buried From View
Edward Hunt
Excessive and Avoidable Harm in Yemen
Howard Lisnoff
The Death of Democracy Both Here and Abroad and All Those Colorful Sneakers
Gary Leupp
Immanuel Kant on Electoral Interference
Kenneth Surin
Theresa May and the Tories are in Freefall
Slavoj Zizek
Get the Left
Robert Fisk
Saudi Arabia Wants to Reduce Qatar to a Vassal State
Ralph Nader
Driverless Cars: Hype, Hubris and Distractions
Rima Najjar
Palestinians Are Seeking Justice in Jerusalem – Not an Abusive Life-Long Mate
Norman Solomon
Is ‘Russiagate’ Collapsing as a Political Strategy?
Binoy Kampmark
In the Twitter Building: Tech Incubators and Altering Perceptions
Dean Baker
Uber’s Repudiation is the Moment for the U.S. to Finally Start Regulating the So-called Sharing Economy
Rob Seimetz
What I Saw From The Law
George Wuerthner
The Causes of Forest Fires: Climate vs. Logging
June 26, 2017
William Hawes – Jason Holland
Lies That Capitalists Tell Us
Chairman Brandon Sazue
Out of the Shadow of Custer: Zinke Proves He’s No “Champion” of Indian Country With his Grizzly Lies
Patrick Cockburn
Grenfell Tower: the Tragic Price of the Rolled-Back Stat
Joseph Mangano
Tritium: Toxic Tip of the Nuclear Iceberg
Ray McGovern
Hersh’s Big Scoop: Bad Intel Behind Trump’s Syria Attack
Roy Eidelson
Heart of Darkness: Observations on a Torture Notebook
Geoff Beckman
Why Democrats Lose: the Case of Jon Ossoff
Matthew Stevenson
Travels Around Trump’s America
David Macaray
Law Enforcement’s Dirty Little Secret
Colin Todhunter
Future Shock: Imagining India
Yoav Litvin
Animals at the Roger Waters Concert
Binoy Kampmark
Pride in San Francisco
Stansfield Smith
North Koreans in South Korea Face Imprisonment for Wanting to Return Home
Hamid Yazdan Panah
Remembering Native American Civil Rights Pioneer, Lehman Brightman
James Porteous
Seventeen-Year-Old Nabra Hassanen Was Murdered
Weekend Edition
June 23, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Democrats in the Dead Zone
Gary Leupp
Trump, Qatar and the Danger of Total Confusion
Andrew Levine
The “Democracies” We Deserve
Jeffrey St. Clair - Joshua Frank
The FBI’s “Operation Backfire” and the Case of Briana Waters
Rob Urie
Cannibal Corpse
Joseph G. Ramsey
Savage Calculations: On the Exoneration of Philando Castile’s Killer
John Wight
Trump’s Attack on Cuba
Dave Lindorff
We Need a Mass Movement to Demand Radical Progressive Change
Brian Cloughley
Moving Closer to Doom
David Rosen
The Sex Offender: the 21st Century Witch
John Feffer
All Signs Point to Trump’s Coming War With Iran
Jennifer L. Lieberman
What’s Really New About the Gig Economy?
Pete Dolack
Analyzing the Failures of Syriza
Vijay Prashad
The Russian Nexus
Mike Whitney
Putin Tries to Avoid a Wider War With the US
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail