Counter-Terrorism: How Paranoia Kills Children


September 16, 2011: In Pakistan, the government is threatening to arrest parents who do not allow their children to receive the polio vaccine. Those refusing families that are Afghan, will be forced to return to Afghanistan. For years, Islamic radicals, including some clergy, urged parents to refuse vaccination, as the radicals believed the vaccination was a Western plot to poison Moslem children. This particular fantasy has been rattling around for nearly a decade, and has prevented the UN from wiping out polio. Like smallpox (which was wiped out in the 1970s), once there are no people with polio, the disease is gone for good (it can only survive in a human host). The Islamic clerics urging parents not to vaccinate their children against polio, are providing the disease with hosts, and keeping it going. Last year, 17,000 children were not vaccinated in northern Pakistan because of this paranoid fantasy. Thus radical Islam continues to kill people in places, and ways, you never hear of.

In Afghanistan, it used to be even worse. Four years ago, 125,000 children were denied vaccination by Taliban terrorists (who also attacked the vaccination teams). But the government, and hostile public opinion, convinced the Taliban to halt their anti-vaccination campaign. As a result, there were fewer cases of polio in Afghanistan this year (less than 20) than in Pakistan (about 80). The four countries where polio still exists are Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and India. In Nigeria, the reason is the same Islamic paranoia that has been a problem in Pakistan and Afghanistan. But in India, the problem is a large rural population, spread over a vast area. Nigeria is now the biggest problem, producing the largest number of new polio cases each year.

The polio victims (usually children) either die, or are crippled for life. When confronted by angry parents, the radical clerics say that it's "God's will" that the kid is dead or crippled from polio. Most Moslem parents accept that, because Islam means, literally, "submission," although this process is often helped along by a bearded guy with a gun.

While the UN lends its name to the polio eradication process, most of the actual work, including finding people who can convince the misguided clerics to back off, is done by a coalition of charitable organization. The lead outfit in all this is Rotary International (the Rotarians), which not only raises most of the money, but provides many of the volunteers, and skilled negotiators to deal with the government, and religious, officials that get in the way of eradicating polio.

Not all of the problems are religious. There are still remote parts of the world where getting the polio vaccine to all the children in an area is very difficult. But it should be noted that sometimes the vaccination is refused because the medical personnel administering it are from another ethnic group, or tribe. Then there is corruption, with some of the local medical personnel taking the money, and not distributing all their vaccine. Despite all these problems, the eradication program creeps closer to success. Most Western nations have been declared polio-free. All of Europe achieved that status in 2002. This inspires many of those working on the vaccination program, for they know they are fighting battle to eradicate a disease that has killed and crippled children for thousands of years.



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