Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Pakistani vaccine workers murdered

Anyone surprised by the attacks on nurses?

Recall that the collection of intelligence on the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden involved a fake vaccination campaign in which Pakistani health workers collected bodily fluid samples (to check DNA, apparently) from a lot of people in the Abbottabad neighborhoods. The genius who thought this up undoubtedly chuckled in glee at the clever use of people’s credulous faith in medical personnel to zero in on the enemy.

Perhaps no one gave much thought—or if they did, couldn’t give a shit—about the impact of using white-coated tricksters on the long-term health of the Pakistani population. Once the residents of that city and in fact the entire country realized that these benign-looking caregivers really could be foreign spies, it was just a matter of time before they became war targets.

In fact, locals predicted attacks on vaccine workers that would severely crimp the U.S. funded campaign against polio in Pakistan, one of only four countries in the world where the disease remains endemic. Kidnappings and death threats against these field workers already had occurred—now they are pretty sure to worsen.

So the Pakistanis have yet another profession burdened as a provocative red flag waved at the local fundamentalist gunmen—and of course all females will be immediately suspect anyway for not hiding in the kitchen.

It’s ironic that in the U.S. suspicious fundamentalists stymie vaccination campaigns as government-sponsored attempts to compel compliance, fueled by unsubstantiated and demagogic fears of vaccine-induced autism. Yet the Obama Administration thought nothing of confirming foreigners’ worst fears by turning a vaccine program into a CIA plot. Who is now responsible for the damage to the public’s health in Pakistan?

In the public health field, by which I am currently employed, we are required to produce reams of documents proving that we are taking all due steps to avoid harming people, all under the rubric of ethical treatment of human research subjects. Who in the government charged with overseeing the ethics of vaccination campaigns carried out with U.S. money in foreign lands has had anything to say about this outrageous ethical violation? I am going to spend some time trying to find out.

No comments: