Monday, December 24, 2012

Taliban Takes Stand In Favor Of Polio

According to news reports out of Pakistan, groups affiliated with the Taliban have killed several medical professionals working in remote villages on a vaccination program designed to eradicate polio. The Taliban countered that the vaccination program was actually a Western-designed plot to make their children sick, rather than to prevent illness, and that the whole medical effort was really a cover for covert military operations in these remote areas.

These are the exact same arguments made by the Taliban a few years earlier when they murdered other Pakistani medical professionals to halt an earlier polio eradication effort in 2006, an event outlined in Dominic Streatfeild’s book A History of the World Since 9/11.  In justifying their earlier attacks, the Taliban said that if a few children got ill or died from polio, it was “God's will” and a small price to pay to keep their region free of evil Western influences like, apparently, modern medical procedures.

But there is something more sinister at play here than merely the Taliban's religious-inspired paranoia, the vaccination efforts in these remote mountain villages are the last links in a chain of efforts to end polio, not just in Pakistan, but everywhere on the globe, forever. As explained in A History of the World Since 9/11, diseases can be wiped out if everyone carries an immunity to them – without new hosts, the diseases die. But for an eradication effort to work, everyone must get the vaccine.  Diseases have a stubborn tendency to hide out in remote corners of the world and humans have an annoying habit of not staying put. So, remote corners of the globe, like the AfPak border can be just the right place for a disease like polio to wait out a global eradication effort.

The Taliban's murder of the first group of medical professionals in 2006 meant that the first attempt to end polio failed; if these Taliban villages can't be vaccinated now, this latest effort will fail as well.

Of course the United States hasn't helped matters by using an earlier vaccination program as cover for an intelligence gathering operation around Abbottabad, the hiding place of Osama bin Laden, thus somewhat validating the Taliban's paranoia, and casting a pall over efforts like the current polio eradication program.
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