Sunday, October 21, 2012

The politics of polio in Pakistan

A health official assisting in polio vaccination efforts was killed last week in Quetta, in the province of Balochistan, in Pakistan. It is not yet clear whether the killing was a personal dispute or if it was a Taliban supported attack against polio vaccination efforts in the region. The latter is a distinct possibility: the Taliban has made its opposition to polio vaccination campaigns clear, issuing a pamphlet back in June describing its position on the matter, and back in July another vaccination worker was killed and others wounded near Karachi. For its part, the Taliban argues that US efforts to eradicate polio in Pakistan contradict US efforts to combat terrorism in the region, more specifically its campaign of drone strikes. As Taliban officials argue, many more Pakistanis -- including women and children not involved in terrorist activity -- have died or been injured (psychologically and otherwise) from drone strikes than have died or are likely to die from polio.

When you can see the point in a Taliban ethical argument, the world is a dark place. The continuation of drone strikes in Pakistan, whose efficacy and legality has never been particularly clear, is a serious blemish on the current Obama Administration. (Some left-leaning Americans would abstain from voting in the upcoming US elections, largely for that reason). On the other hand, polio eradication goes beyond the depressing, dysfunctional and deadly relationship that US and Pakistan currently have. The eradication of polio is of global interest: it is important that it joins smallpox in the tiny category of eliminated infectious diseases, while we still have the chance.  

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