Pakistanis blame CIA for fresh
polio cases By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR - Pakistan's efforts to contain
polio in areas bordering Afghanistan may have been
setback following the conviction of a doctor who
allegedly ran a fake vaccine program to locate
al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.
Afridi, who was sentenced to 30 years in prison on
May 23 on charges of treason, is said to have
helped the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of
the United States track down bin Laden by
collecting DNA samples from selected residents in
the cantonment town of Abbottabad. Bin Laden was
killed in a US raid on his secret residence in
Abbottabad in May 2011. Afridi was arrested by
Pakistani authorities three weeks later, leading
to friction between Islamabad and Washington.
Medecins Sans Frontieres, the
international medical aid charity, had then warned
that the CIA's alleged use of a vaccination
program as cover to spy
on bin Laden threatened immunization work around
Afridi's role appears to have
exacerbated suspicions among people in the
Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) that
polio vaccinations are part of a US conspiracy to
render their children infertile.
problem of refusing vaccination is not new but
Afridi's fake vaccination campaign has proved to
be a setback to our efforts to popularize
immunization," Dr Rekhanullah Khan, a polio
officer in the FATA, told IPS.
Pakistan has already recorded 22 cases of polio
with 10 of them from the FATA, a territory
consisting of seven tribal agencies.
the FATA, authorities are facing difficulties
reaching children of immunizable age," said Dr
Javid Khan of the World Health Organisation (WHO).
"In the Khyber Agency of the FATA, which
recorded its eighth case last week, oral polio
vaccines have not been administered since October
2009, leaving some 150,000 children vulnerable,"
Javid Khan told IPS.
"This is a program by
the US to cut the population of the Muslims and
weaken them to a point that they become
incapacitated to defend Islam," Qari Mohammad
Akram, a resident of FATA's Bajaur agency, told
IPS over telephone.
"People here don't
want any treatment for a disease that has not
affected them. We need to follow teachings of
Islam and heed the Prophet," he argued.
Refusal to cooperate with health
authorities is also because FATA residents are
demanding a better deal from the central
"Last week, parents refused to
allow vaccination in South Waziristan agency,
saying they would prefer to have electricity,
paved roads and clean drinking water first," Dr
Muhammad Khalid of the expanded program on
immunization (EPI) in the FATA, told IPS.
The Dawn English language daily, published
from Karachi, quoted Dr Elia Curry, leader of the
WHO's polio eradication section in Pakistan, as
saying on June 9 that the virus will continue to
circulate as long as anti-polio drives miss
significant numbers of children.
told Dawn that environmental surveillance,
covering sewer systems, had proved persistent
circulation of wild poliovirus in cities like
Lahore and Rawalpindi with children in the
provinces of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
WHO's website, the Khyber Agency is the only area
in Asia having both the wild poliovirus-1 and wild
poliovirus-3 types and this poses a threat to
efforts at polio eradication in the country as
well as globally.
WHO officials said there
was added risk of the virus spreading from the
FATA to other parts of the country because of the
ongoing large-scale population migration to other
parts of the country.
drive begun in selected areas of Pakistan on June
4 is expected to reach at least 17 million
children, but would still miss children in the
FATA because of military operations against the
Taliban in several areas, particularly the Khyber
Some parents are convinced that
unsettled conditions in the FATA are mainly
responsible for polio continuing to threaten their
"Both the army and Taliban are
responsible for making my daughter crippled," says
Allah Noor, whose 21-month-old daughter, Salma,
was diagnosed with polio on June 1.
"Obviously vaccinations cannot be carried
out when fighting is in progress and the health
facilities are closed," Noor, a resident of Usai
Khula village of the Khyber Agency, said. "I want
to tell all parents to cooperate and save their
children from vaccine-preventable ailments," he
In early April, the WHO had
requested Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's provincial
government to carry out mass immunizations in the
Jalozai refugee camp, home to 40,000 children
uprooted by military operations in the FATA.
On WHO's request, Dost Muhammad Khan,
chief justice of the Peshawar High Court, ordered
the setting up of transit points to vaccinate
children fleeing military operations in the FATA's
Khyber Agency and reaching the Jalozai camp.
"We established 48 vaccination points
where children coming in from the Khyber Agency
are being vaccinated," Dr Jan Baz Afridi, who
heads the EPI in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, said.
In 2011, Pakistan emerged as the worst
polio-infected country in the world with 198 cases
and this year will be no different if urgent
measures for mass immunization are not taken,
according to WHO officials.