Eight vaccination workers were killed in the last week during a drive to provide oral polio vaccine in Pakistan, one of only three countries in the world where the paralyzing disease is still endemic. While nobody has accepted blame, the Taliban have issued threats against the UN’s anti-polio efforts, claiming that the vaccination workers are in reality US spies.
Vaccination workers as spies? Come on! This is obviously another paranoid accusation by a group with a long history of paranoid and unbalanced positions.
However, while the suspicions about the polio workers are patently absurd and completely unfounded, the Taliban have unfortunately been given a precedent for such accusations. Last year, a Pakistani doctor was hired by the CIA to run a hepatitis B vaccination program. But the program was a cover: its real goal was to obtain DNA samples in an effort to locate Osama Bin Laden. The program did provide vaccine, but only to those in the neighborhoods that were areas of interest to the CIA.
This is a repugnant misuse and subversion of the goals and ends of medical practice. It was of course wrong for a physician to deceive his patients, and he must bear the blame for his own actions. And the Taliban are directly responsible for their own twisted beliefs and actions, and I am not excusing their atrocities. But at least part of the blame must be borne by a government agency that unethically and blatantly promoted the corruption of a physician’s calling, in the interest of finding a human target.
This is categorically wrong. There is no national security goal that can justify such actions. We have seen the perversion of medical practice for ostensibly good purposes before, and each time it has done harm, intended or unintended, to the lives and dignity of human beings. This instance is no different. As a direct or indirect result of actions backed or taken by the CIA, one doctor is in prison, eight vaccination workers are dead, and who knows how many children may contract a terrible disease for lack of a simple oral vaccine.