Conspiracy Culture, Not Ghosts, Behind Killing of Polio Workers

Dec 20th, 2012 | By | Category: Conspiracy Theories, The News

The News (Jang Group)An article in The News (Jang Group) of 20th December bearing the headline, ‘Osama’s ghost behind killing of polio workers’ suggests that recent killings of polio workers are the result of a CIA operation intended to catch Osama bin Laden, but the piece ignores the fact that conspiracy theories about polio vaccinations and attacks from militants pre-date the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden and the revelation about the role of Dr Afridi.

According to the report by Amir Mir, Taliban have been attacking health workers as a result of the operation that captured Osama bin Laden.

The WHO-backed anti-polio campaign in Pakistan is facing the wrath of the Taliban fanatics ever since the May 2011 arrest and subsequent conviction of Dr Shakil Afridi who was hired by CIA to run a fake vaccination drive in Abbottabad to track Osama bin Laden.

But news reports from before the 2011 raid in Abbattabad reveal a long history of militant resistance to vaccination campaigns.

According to a 2008 report by M Ilyas Khan for BBC News, militant leaders objected to polio vaccinations since 2006.

Since last year polio vaccination teams have not been able to vaccinate children in more than 70 out of Swat’s 180 village clusters.

Resistance to vaccinations began when a Swat-based militant cleric, Maulana Fazlullah, started telling people in his FM radio sermons that the vaccine was intended to render their children impotent.

While militants temporarily allowed vaccination programs to proceed under a peace agreement with the military, the program was short lived and polio continued to rise in the country.

In 2010, President Zardari appealed to the masses to cooperate with efforts to eradicate the easily preventable disease.

The president said, “Unfortunately the extremists and militants opposed the vaccination of children against polio on the ground that it was foreign funded and that it made the Muslim children infertile.”

“We have fought against this mindset, and will not permit militants to deprive our children of basic health care. In the fight against this crippling disease we also need to produce polio vaccines locally,” he added.

He called upon the government to step up efforts for the indigenous production of polio vaccine. He hoped that the people will respond actively and positively to eradicate polio by ensuring that every child of their area gets two drops of polio vaccine regularly.”

“Let us on this occasion pledge that no child who should get polio drops, will be missed out.” The president complimented the Health Ministry, the provincial and local governments, international community and partners and workers participating in the polio campaign and wish them all success in their task.

Sadly, militants conspiracy theories continued to spread among the awam and the epidemic continued to worsen.

As of Oct. 13, 111 cases of polio had been recorded this year in Pakistan — second only to the African nation of Chad, where 114 cases have been reported this year. Last year, Pakistan logged 144 cases of polio. Today, Pakistan is one of just four countries where polio is deemed endemic; the other three are Afghanistan, India and Nigeria.

Several factors have stood in the way of eradication. In the country’s volatile tribal areas along the Afghan border, the war against Islamic militants has made it difficult for vaccination teams to make the rounds in villages and towns, where cases of polio continue to spread. The migration of Pakistanis from the country’s northwest to densely populated cities such as Karachi and Quetta has further spread the disease.

Underlying those factors, however, is an intense mistrust among some Pakistanis for the vaccines and the people who supply and administer them. Radical clerics seed rumors that vaccines are un-Islamic because they are made from substances derived from pigs, or that they cause infertility. Some clerics try to convince parents that polio vaccines are made from the urine of Satan.

The CIA’s use of a health programme to find Osama bin Laden certainly exacerbated the problem and has given fuel to militants in efforts to scare the masses into submission, but it was not the cause of the campaign against polio vaccines which pre-dates the Abbottabad raid by several years.

It is not the ghost of Osama bin Laden or the CIA which is behind the killing of health workers in Pakistan. It is the culture of conspiracy theories and the unchecked ability of militants to spread false propaganda that is responsible for this crisis.

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