They would regret helping the “infidel” campaign against polio

First, do no harm.

First, don’t be evil.

It’s strange how easily a lot of people lose sight of that basic thought, or never entertain it in the first place.

What would be high on a list of harms not to do? Killing people who are working to prevent polio in a country where 35 children have been infected with polio this year, when nearly all other countries in the world are polio-free.

High high high on the list. One, polio is bad; very very bad. Immunizing people against it is an unqualified good. Two, people who are working to immunize children against polio are doing a good thing, and don’t deserve to be killed for doing it.

And yet, there are people who murder young women who are working to immunize children against polio in Pakistan, where 35 children have been infected with polio this year. The immunization campaign has been suspended in Karachi as a result.

Three women were killed and a man was wounded in two separate attacks on health workers in Karachi on Tuesday, said senior police superintendent police Imran Shaukat.

The team had received telephone calls warning workers they would regret helping the “infidel” campaign against polio, said health official Gul Naz, who oversees project in the area where the women were shot.

An anti-polio worker in Karachi was shot dead on Monday, the United Nations said.

In the northwestern city of Peshawar on Tuesday, gunmen on a motorbike shot a 17-year-old girl supervising an anti-polio campaign, said government official Javed Marwar.

She died of her wounds in hospital, a doctor said.

All of the victims were Pakistanis working with a U.N.-backed program to eradicate polio, which attacks the nervous system and can cause permanent paralysis within hours of infection.

It has been eradicated in all but a handful of countries but at least 35 children in Pakistan have been infected this year.

In Karachi, provincial Health Minister Saghir Ahmed said the government had told 24,000 polio workers it was suspending the anti-polio drive in the province.

It’s monstrous.


  1. says

    Didn’t US spies infiltrate some medical teams like this one, as part of the hunt for Osama bin Laden? I think that’s the main reason why such teams are being targeted now.

    I’m all in favor of using spies to hunt down bad guys, but when they infiltrate medical organizations, they compromise the image of nonpartisanship and professional impartiality they need to gain their patients’ trust and do their work well.

    So yeah, it’s monstrous what these militants did, but it was kinda monstrous of us to give them an excuse to do it.

  2. says

    It is monstrous, and you can blame the CIA: they have admitted to using “vaccination programs” to gather the DNA evidence that was use to track down bin Laden. In response, the Taliban — which is very strong in Pakistan, and which has a lot of covert support among the Pakistani government — has been warning people that vaccine programs are all surveillance plots by the US government in preparation for an invasion and occupation similar to the ones in Afghanistan and Iraq. As far as the murderers are concerned, killing these workers is an expression of patriotism and a preemptive strike for political autonomy.

  3. says

    Well, yes, but then you can push it back another step. The Taliban is hardly a humanitarian organization. Osama bin Laden hardly had the best interests of all the people of Pakistan at heart.

    Still – using the vax programs to spy on bin Laden was a really shitty idea.

  4. says

    Ophelia, consider: Pottsylvania invades Canada and Mexico, overthrows their governments, and hands the reins of power over ill prepared warlords in both countries. The leader of the Canadian resistance flees to the US and finds refuge with the covert support of the US military. He is a vicious man who has committed atrocities, but is nonetheless hailed as a hero for standing up against Pottsylvanian aggression. The Pottsylvanian secret foreign service uses a program to vaccinate against HIV to collect DNA evidence to hunt down the resistance leader, uses that information to send in a strike force, murder everyone in his refuge, kidnap the resistance leader, kill him and dump his body in the Atlantic Ocean… then confirms, even brags about, what it has done. The Republican Party starts sending out propaganda that HIV vaccine programs are instruments of Pottsylvanian terrorism. The Pottsylvanian government denies such charges.

    I strongly suspect that, even as an atheist woman, you will be far more likely to believe the Republicans than the Pottsylvanians.

    That is pretty much the situation in Pakisan.

  5. says

    Yeah, I’m beginning to wonder whether killing Osama the way we did was a net benefit, either for our own interests or for mankind in general. Afghans and Pakistanis suffering from polio because the aid workers are suddenly considered “enemy combattants” would probably not think this op was “zero bad.”

    OTOH, try telling that to the Republicans, if it gets out that Obama could have killed Enemy #1, but didn’t because he was more worried about doctors vaccinating someone else’s kids in a place most of them couldn’t find on a map anyway…

  6. sailor1031 says

    “…He is a vicious man who has committed atrocities..”

    Not so. The leader of our heroic resistance is a brave and wonderful man who would never commit any crime let alone an atrocity. In fact his incredible niceness, great even by canadian standards, is the reason our heroic resistance forces were defeated and our beautiful country brought under the heel of imperial Washington; we were too nice to commit atrocities! And still are – mostly.

  7. Carmichael says

    The willingness to blame this on the use of medical workers to help discover the whereabouts of OBL is understandable. I don’t think it was the smartest idea ever. However, fundamentalist Muslim opposition to vaccination campaigns pre-dates OBLs demise by a considerable margin. And it’s not just Pakistan and Afghanistan. The same problem is occuring in northern Nigeria. See here, for example, from 2009.
    The primary problem, as is so often the case, is the beliefs of religious fundies. The actions of the US government are not always helpful, but they are not the root cause of the problem.

  8. Riptide says

    As I said over at A Million Gods, it might not be reasonable to blame this entirely on the CIA’s use of vaccination programs to help kill Osama bin Laden. Islamic militants in Pakistan, Nigeria, and elsewhere have been resisting the polio vaccination for several years–spreading foul rumours that it’s a Western plot to sterilize their children.

    Also, as far as I’m aware, the UN program didn’t solely employ women; it’s hardly a coincidence that women were targeted, however.

    Let’s not lose our focus on who actually committed these murders in our rush to self-flagellate.

  9. says

    I was listening to a BBC World Service report about this while driving to work this morning. One local man who was afraid of the health workers made the point that, for all the concern over children who might get polio, there is comparatively little concern about children who might get killed in drone attacks.

    Obviously I loathe the Taliban and support vaccination campaigns, but this man had a point. Which was not addressed at all otherwise in the BBC’s report.

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