The Central Intelligence Agency reportedly used an immunization survey as a ruse during the hunt for Osama bin Laden three years ago in a program, which is said to not have yielded the desired results.
Since that time villagers in some Pakistani communities have rebuffed immunization efforts by various aid organizations, fearing that they may, in fact, be similar ruses designed to help hunt terrorists in the area.
As a result of the situation, a dozen deans of U.S. public health schools wrote president Obama in protest, complaining that such operations damage legitimate public health efforts. Now, the administration has responded to the deans’ concerns, and promised to end the program which uses fake immunizations as a cover for covert operations.
In January 2013 the deans of 12 U.S. public health schools complained that the CIA had used Pakistani surgeon Shakil Afridi to covertly collect DNA samples under the guise of conducting a hepatitis immunization survey. The effort was unsuccessful and Afridi was sentenced to 23 years in prison after being found guilty of treason by the Pakistani government.
The deans complained that using “humanitarian public health service” as a guise for an intelligence-gathering effort may result in serious collateral consequences that could affect the public health of local communities.
In late May, the Obama administration pledged to put an end to such programs, saying that it would “make no operational use of vaccination programs, which includes vaccination workers.”
The pledge comes in the wake of the killing of several public health workers in Pakistan, as some locals revolted against polio vaccination efforts. As a result of the attacks, vaccination efforts have been reduced, and polio appears to be spreading incrementally.
The increased instances of the disease lead to the World Health Organization declaring the spread of polio to be a global health emergency.