Covert American agents inside Pakistan hired a doctor with a tainted record, Dr. Shakil Afridi, and fake public health volunteers to distribute what possibly were fake hepatitis vaccines as part of the effort to find Osama bin Laden.
This is the latest indication of how much access Pakistan’s ruling elite has allowed CIA inside Pakistan. In 2009, Pakistani police busted CIA contractors, facilitated by former US ambassador Anne W. Patterson, training a militia of 200 to 400 retired Pakistani military officers at a private property on the outskirts of the Pakistani capital.
The incident qualifies as one of the most dangerous breaches of Pakistani security and a sad testament on the country’s deteriorating security situation since 2002.
Dr. Orin Levine, executive director of the International Vaccine Access Center and an associate professor of international health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and Laurie Garrett, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of “Betrayal of Trust: The Collapse of Global Public Health”, published an op-ed where they explained the reckless attitude of CIA in faking an immunization program in Pakistan.
Here are excerpts:
“The CIA’s plot — recruiting a Pakistani doctor to distribute hepatitis vaccines in Abbottabad this spring — destroyed credibility that wasn’t its to erode. It was the very trust that communities worldwide have in immunization programs that made vaccinations an appealing ruse. But intelligence officials imprudently burned bridges that took years for health workers to build.”
“… the CIA’s actions may have jeopardized the global polio eradication program, which has saved thousands of lives and in which billions of dollars have been invested. Americans could one day be at risk again from re-imported polio.”
“Complicating matters is the fact that Pakistan recently dissolved its Ministry of Health, which has left international programs to negotiate directly with local leaders. Many such leaders may be inclined to distrust doctors or to believe that vaccination programs are CIA ploys designed to hurt their communities.”
“In Afghanistan, where colleagues of ours are helping to rebuild the national health system, locals often link trust in health services with security — in other words, they trust clinics because they believe they are safe places. But health workers there and in Pakistan may now be suspect or seen as spies. People throughout the region may reject vaccines out of politically derived fear.”
“Obama and leaders in Congress should acknowledge the damage to global health efforts and commit to repairing the trust. They should begin where the need is most urgent: Pakistan. They should make clear to regional leaders that despite cuts in foreign aid and U.S. support for the Pakistani military, Americans will not walk away from their region’s poor, their needy children, or commitments to stopping the spread of deadly diseases.”
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