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Polio Breaks Out After the U.S. Breaks Trust

Only two diseases have ever been completely eradicated worldwide: smallpox and rinderpest. But hopes for eradicating a third have dimmed with the World Health Organization’s announcement that the spread of polio has become a global health emergency [1].

After over 25 years of eradication campaigns, polio had been beaten back into only a handful of countries, and, by 2012, polio was eliminated or in sharp decline in all but three countries: Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria [2]. But, as the virus has come roaring back, the WHO has set travel restrictions on new hotspots. Residents of Pakistan, Syria, and Cameroon are advised not to leave their countries unless they have been vaccinated against the disease and cannot carry it beyond their borders.

Pakistan is the cradle of the resurgent polio. Of the 74 cases of wild polio reported this year to date, 59 occurred in Pakistan [3]. The increasing prevalence isn’t due to a new mutation or drug resistance; the resistance is coming from the Pakistani people, not the microorganisms that live inside them.

The vaccinators lost moral credibility when, in order to confirm the identity of Bin Laden prior to his assassination, the United States ran a fake hepatitis vaccination campaign in Abbottabad [4]. Although doctors claimed they were going door to door to give inoculations, the blood draws they conducted were used for DNA tests discover whether any relatives of Bin Laden were living in town.

After Seal Team Six carried out their mission, some Taliban leaders banned vaccinations in the regions under their control [5] and over a dozen vaccinators were murdered, forcing Pakistan to put its eradication campaign on hold [6]. The doctor who conducted the operation was arrested by Pakistan’s own intelligence agency [7] and held on charges of treason.

The doctor was accused of betraying his country to serve another government, but the United States itself came under fire for betraying the medical community and putting public health at risk. Scientific American excoriated the United States [8] for disrupting and profaning a historically neutral and altruistic profession. Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders) said that the CIA operation was a “grave manipulation of the medical act” [9] and endangered the lifesaving work doctors conducted around the globe.

If doctors could be spies in disguise, how could nations welcome them in? In Syria, where polio is spreading amid the chaos of the civil war, how can vaccinators persuade Assad to let them move freely within the country, if they could be doubling as spies, assassins, or gun runners?

Ease of modern travel helps disease spread more rapidly; one sick patient in an airport or a subway hub is enough to send ripples of illness around the world. In order to check these diseases, public health officials need to be enter any country to set up quarantines and dispense inoculations. The United States has shattered the trust placed in medical workers, and polio may not be the last of the threats we face as a result.

This month, the first case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) [10], a deadly respiratory infection, was identified in the United States. The CDC has been working to retrace the American Patient Zero’s steps, so they can treat and quarantine the people he exposed, before the disease can root itself in America. However, unless the illness is also checked abroad, the CDC may need to repeat these actions ad nauseum.

Along the border of Thailand and Myanmar, epidemiologists are working desperately to contain a strain of drug-resistant malaria [11]. This strain must be eradicated, if we want to be able to continue using the current generation of anti-malarials, but one of the scientists on the project expects that the strain will nevertheless cross over to India, and, from there, the rest of the world within four years. Waiting until the disease has spread far enough to threaten us directly will mean waiting until it is too late to contain.

Combatting these diseases requires more than a team of elite commandos. Turning back a pandemic, whether of natural or human origins, requires international coordination and trust. America’s covert operations have broken that trust and put us all in danger.

Follow @leahlibresco [12]

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#1 Comment By jacobus On May 8, 2014 @ 11:49 am

Our government might be genuinely evil.

#2 Comment By SDS On May 8, 2014 @ 12:52 pm

Another unintended consequence….

#3 Comment By C. L. H. Daniels On May 8, 2014 @ 3:56 pm

Yeah, not the brightest idea.

#4 Comment By Darth Thulhu On May 8, 2014 @ 4:18 pm

We reap what we sow. Medical initiatives to abet political murder sow death and they reap death, as predictably as the setting of the Sun.

#5 Comment By Winston On May 8, 2014 @ 4:59 pm

Just goes to show, these people only think of what is expedient and they are very narrow minded. That’s why they also coined the term blowback. This is one example of a blowback.

#6 Comment By IndianaMike On May 8, 2014 @ 5:23 pm

The resurgence of polio in Pakistan is the responsibility on one party – the government of Pakistan.

#7 Comment By Glaivester On May 8, 2014 @ 5:28 pm

A few thoughts.

First, polio causes no symptoms in 90% of people who have it, and apparently in 90% of the cases where it has symptoms, it is not paralytic, which I would suspect in many cases means it is never diagnosed as polio.

This would imply that the number of infected people is likely much, much higher than the number of reported cases.

Secondly, was the hepatitis vaccine campaign fake (as in no one got a vaccine or got tested) or did they do what they claimed but also look for bin Laden? It seems to me that it would ave worked out so much better if the people had actually been given something of value so that if the plot were found out, at least we could say that we had helped them.

Third, how did this information get out? If you do something like this, you keep it under wraps. Instead, Obama is a glory hog who cares more about getting the credit than about mitigating the consequences.

#8 Comment By RadicalCenter On May 8, 2014 @ 5:39 pm

Jacobus: it is.

#9 Comment By Kurt Gayle On May 8, 2014 @ 7:59 pm

What you have written Leah is so very important!

For the past dozen or so years my brother has served as a medical missionary in West Africa. He forwarded to me this article “Ensuring Public Health Neutrality” from the New England Journal of Medicine, March 21, 2013:


The deans of public health departments at a number of major American universities sent this letter to President Obama (January, 2013).


#10 Comment By Neil Cordero On May 9, 2014 @ 2:04 pm

I don’t see blowback, unless you refuse to get vaccinated. Some fundamentalists in the USA refuse to be vaccinated.

There is a resurgence of measles.

I made sure my children got the measles, mumps and rubella vaccines.

To write in the American Conservative that the USA is to blame for the absence of action against virulent diseases is ridiculous.

Regardless of any political intrigue, it is up to human beings to act responsibly.

As for public health, it is up to individual governments to provide said services, not the United States.

The mullahs are more concerned about Christianity than they are the CIA.

That is why they don’t want “westerners” about.

Remember Pat’s mantra, we want a Republic and not an Empire.

#11 Comment By Robert Sandstedt On May 9, 2014 @ 3:39 pm

This is just one of the ways we suffer for placing so high a value on vengeance.

#12 Comment By Kiza On May 10, 2014 @ 3:20 am

There is a fairly long tradition of Western intelligence using medical and humanitarian missions for intelligence gathering, propaganda dissemination and even sabotage. The last example which comes to mind is the tug-of-war with the government of Myanmar (Burma) after the recent earthquake. The conditions set for US humanitarian assistance were totally unacceptable.
Another one is Care Australia infiltrated by a British intelligence agent in Serbia during the Kosovo Crisis. Even Doctors Without Borders, the organization mentioned in this article, are said to have been infiltrated by the French military intelligence DGSE. In all these humanitarian organizations the majority genuinely want to help, but it is sufficient to have one or a few agents to make them unacceptable to the host country. I am confident that Pakistani intelligence new about the dual purpose hepatitis vaccination campaign but was bribed to let it run on unsuspecting population. This time Ossama, next time medical experiment or drug test!
Finally, it is very telling how several commentators here do not understand and do not care about the damage that this kind of trickery does to trust.

#13 Comment By pB On May 10, 2014 @ 6:19 am

Glaivester says:
May 8, 2014 at 5:28 pm

might be wrong on the chronology but i don’t think so and am to lasing to look up some citations
i believe the information first came out when pakistan arrested and charged with treason one of the local drs involved

#14 Comment By Popsiq On May 11, 2014 @ 12:19 am

Transmissible disease – especially the historic ones that have caused much human misery, were viable and praiseworthy targets for eradication. Sadly our world, ostensibly through an application of ignorance has deliberately exposed itself to a prolonged interaction with pestilence.

While some people are unaffected by disease, that is no panacea to those who are. Outbreaks tend to come in virulent forms, for otherwise we wouldn’t notice them. And having had a disease, you are marked or marred, to a greater or lesser degree, by it, for life. The trace stays within you, often to reappear in anothr form in later life, to change you yet again.

While a decision to ‘take a risk’ may be acceptable for each of us individually, that risk should not be transferred to the young, or, even, to others. Typhoid Mary, after the awareness – was a potential criminal. There are such people still among us.

The deliberate use of disease as a tool of polity or a weapon of war should be treated as it is, a crime against humanity.

Remember, there are exponentially more of us on earth to-day, to provide the ‘sink’ for a disease outbreak that would make the historic ‘plagues’ look like good times.

If the ‘Spanish Flu’ moved fast around the world in 1918, imagine how much more rapidly it could dispersed in our jet age.