The penny finally drops for The New York Times: C.I.A. Vaccine Ruse in Pakistan May Have Harmed Polio Fight. Excerpt:
Did the killing of Osama bin Laden have an unintended victim: the global drive to eradicate polio?
In Pakistan, where polio has never been eliminated, the C.I.A.’s decision to send a vaccination team into the Bin Laden compound to gather information and DNA samples clearly hurt the national polio drive. The question is: How badly?
After the ruse by Dr. Shakil Afridi was revealed by a British newspaper a year ago, angry villagers, especially in the lawless tribal areas on the Afghan border, chased off legitimate vaccinators, accusing them of being spies.
And then, late last month, Taliban commanders in two districts banned polio vaccination teams, saying they could not operate until the United States ended its drone strikes. One cited Dr. Afridi, who is serving a 33-year sentence imposed by a tribal court, as an example of how the C.I.A. could use the campaign to cover espionage.
“It was a setback, no doubt,” conceded Dr. Elias Durry, the World Health Organization’s polio coordinator for Pakistan. “But unless it spreads or is a very longtime affair, the program is not going to be seriously affected.”
He and other leaders of the global war on polio say they have recovered from worse setbacks. The two districts, North and South Waziristan, are in sparsely populated mountains where transmission is less intense than in urban slums. Only about 278,000 children under age 5 — the vaccine target population — live there.
By contrast, in northern Nigeria, where polio is being beaten after years of public resistance to the vaccine campaign, children number in the millions.
Also, Dr. Durry said, vaccinators reached 225,000 Waziristan youngsters in early June, before the ban. All will need several doses to be fully protected, but each dose buys time.
And, said Dr. Bruce Aylward, the W.H.O.’s chief of polio eradication, vaccination teams are posted at highway checkpoints, train stations and bus stations. They give drops to all the children they find.
The truth probably won’t emerge until the summer spike of polio cases tapers off in the fall. The virus likes hot weather, and the summer monsoons flood the sewage-choked gutters where it lurks.
Paralyzed children may also be found in neighboring countries with better surveillance, as they have been before just over the China and Tajikistan borders. Genetic testing will show whether the strains are Pakistan-based.
By contrast, if the eradicators are winning, local paralysis cases will slowly shrink to zero, as they have in India, a former epicenter which has not had a case in almost a year and a half. And the virus will no longer be found in sewage samples from Pakistani cities, as it is now.
Local anger was at its height last July, when The Guardian exposed the C.I.A. connection. It was confirmed by Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta in January. Public outrage flared again in May after Dr. Afridi was sentenced. A coalition of aid groups protested to David Petraeus, the director of Central Intelligence.
“There could hardly have been a more stupid venture, and there was bound to be a backlash, especially for polio,” said Dr. Zulfiqar A. Bhutta, a vaccine specialist at Aga Khan University in Pakistan.