Is a lawyer competent enough to declare that polio vaccines sterilize male children? Yes. In Pakistan, in the city of Peshawar, a 42-year-old lawyer named Sartaj Khan said: “These vaccines are meant to destroy our nation. The [polio] drops make men less manly, and make women more excited and less bashful. Our enemies want to wipe us out.”
Pakistan is one of the world’s three remaining polio-stricken countries the other two are Afganistan and Nigeria.
The Pakistani investigation of the deadly raid by a Navy SEAL team on May 1, 2011, on Osama bin Laden’s residence revealed that Dr. Shakeel Afridi, a Pakistani physician helped the CIA to run a fake vaccination program to establish the presence of bin Laden in his compound in Abbottabad.
After the disclosure of Dr. Shakeel’s involvement in locating bin Laden, the Pakistani Taliban and other militant organizations banned polio campaigns in their respective areas. The extremist groups in the Pashtun belt of northwestern Pakistan spread the rumor that the army of health workers employed to vaccinate the country’s children is on the United States’ payroll, and the Americans were using the anti-polio campaign to sterilize or spy on Muslims.
The rumor spread by the extremists has resulted in the murder of nine anti-polio workers by gunmen riding motorcycles this week. Some of those killed were teenage girls.
Aseefa Bhutto Zardari, ambassador for Polio Eradication, strongly condemned the violence that killed the four female anti-polio workers. “Everyone involved in the polio campaign are selfless volunteers. They do this to save lives, they do this to save Pakistan.”
When a 14-year-old anti-polio worker Farzana Rehman was assassinated in her hometown of Peshawar by unknown gunmen, Aseefa Bhutto Zardari said: “We must not be deterred, better security precautions will be taken. Through our passion and dedication, we shall eradicate this crippling disease from our homeland, we shall continue to fight in the names of those who have lost their lives for the cause. We shall continue to fight for young girls like Farzana. Terrorists do this to scare us, they do this to try and stop us, we shall not be silenced and we will not stop the need, come what may,”
Following the violence, the United Nations pulled back all staff involved in the vaccination campaign and Pakistani officials suspended further vaccination in some parts of the country.