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Radical Islam Resists Anti-Polio Efforts


While polio has been eradicated almost the world over, it is still stubbornly endemic in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria—three countries where radical Islam is resurgent.

As the New York Times reported last year, “Resistance to polio vaccine springs from a combination of fear, often in marginalized ethnic groups, and brutal historical facts that make that fear seem justified.” Among the historical facts the report describes are malpractice by the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer in Nigeria that resulted in the deaths of 11 children, and a CIA operation to use a hepatitis vaccination campaign as a way to access Osama Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Episodes like these have spawned many fearful rumors and conspiracy theories. Extremist groups have claimed that polio vaccines are meant to sterilize the population, that they are forbidden in Islam, and that AIDS originated from polio vaccines. Boko Haram in Nigeria, and the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan, have all opposed anti-polio drives and targeted health workers. 11 were killed in Pakistan in 2012 alone. In Nigeria militants killed nine in an attack earlier this year. The BBC reported that polio may have returned to war-ravaged Syria as well.

Assuaging fears and combatting misinformation will be key to putting the anti-polio effort back on sure footing and, ultimately, eradicating the disease entirely. As daunting as that may seem, ending the militant violence will be an even greater challenge.


[An Afghan health worker (2R) administers a polio vaccination to a child on the first day of a vaccination campaign on the outskirts of Jalalabad, Nangarhar province on October 6, 2013. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.]

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  • Pete


  • Fat_Man

    Why should we lift a finger t0o help them?

  • gabrielsyme

    Get the Saudis to do it. They’d be pretty safe, they aren’t delusional about these kinds of things, and it’s not like they’re busy contributing to civilisation otherwise.

  • wigwag


    Horror has a face, and you must make a friend of horror.

    Horror and moral terror are your friends. It they are not, then they are enemies to be feared. They are truly enemies.

    I remember when I was with Special Forces. Seems a thousand centuries ago. We went into a camp to inoculate some children. We’d left the camp after we had inoculated the children for polio. And this old man came running after us, and he was crying. He couldn’t say. We went back there, and they had come and hacked off every inoculated arm. There they were, in a pile. A pile of … little arms. And, I remember, I, I cried, I wept like some … grandmother. I wanted to tear my teeth out. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. And I want to remember it. I never want to forget it. I never want to forget.

    And then I realized, like I was shot, like I was shot with a diamond — a diamond bullet right through my forehead.

    And I thought, My God, the genius of that! The genius. The will to do that. Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure. And then I realized, that they were stronger than we. Because they could stand to do it…” (Col, Walter E. Kurtz, played by Marlon Brando; “Apocalypse Now”)


    It would be useful to add designation “enemies of humanity” to describe outfits like Pakistani Taliban with its anti-vaccination tale strewn with bodies, and Boko Haram with its recent murder of students in their sleep. So far these enclaves of people with hearts blackened by hatred proved unbreacheable, the buzz of lethal drones overhead notwithstanding. It’s quite likely that future generations will scratch their heads, asking: the world then, meaning the US, had overwhelming military superiority but failed to overcome a bunch of ex-goat herders armed with nothing more sophisticated R.P.G.’s Similar questions will be likely addressed to Israel and its failure to utterly destroy its mortal enemies Hizbulla and Hamas, when it had all the means in their disposal. Sometimes one wants to send this whole mess back to the 13th century and ask Mongols to deal with it. It would take them no more than two weeks to pacify Syria, and few days to do the same with North Waziristan. And they would do it in such a way, that for the next two generations nobody would even dare to think about some new taliban. We can’t be like the Mongols, but sometimes it’s useful to remind ourselves of them, as we ponder the prospect of dealing with this menace for many years on out, while we could eradicate them.

    • gerald

      Asking the Mongols to fix the problem? They ADDED to the problem! The ONLY non-arab culture that wholeheartedly embraced Islam willingly upon meeting it were the Mongols, which is how Islam spread East as far as China.

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