EDITORIAL: A safe haven for polio

Bin Laden haunts efforts to eradicate a childhood scourge

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The Islamist hatred of all things Western continues to dumfound the world. The Islamists wrote the book on how to mistreat women and abuse children, spreading disease and suffering among the children of the Muslim world.

On Feb. 26, gunmen in Pakistan’s Waziristan tribal region shot dead a police officer protecting a medical team administering polio vaccine to children; a similar attack killed a policeman in January. In December, eight health workers assisting in polio vaccination were slain near Karachi, and on New Year’s Day seven charity workers providing immunizations, including six women, were slain. All told, 20 Muslims in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria have been slain over the past three months for the “sin” of preventing the deaths of Muslims.

In the wake of the December shootings, officials in Pakistan temporarily suspended the polio immunization program until police could be brought in to protect the doctors and nurses. Once vaccinations resumed, extremists turned their weapons on the guards. The World Health Organization, which has led a 25-year campaign to rid the world of polio, condemned the latest attack. “Shooting health workers who are protecting kids from this crippling disease is against the Koran and everything Islam stands for,” the organization’s assistant director-general Bruce Aylward says.

The killings are believed to have been the work of radical Muslim groups like the Taliban, which call vaccination programs a Western conspiracy. They cite the U.S. operation that led to the 2011 killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan as the foundation of their suspicion. It was a Pakistani doctor conducting a fake vaccination program who helped lead the CIA to the Abbottabad compound where the master terrorist was hiding. As a consequence, locals distrust health campaigns with foreign links.

Some opponents claim the workers are American spies using medicine as a means of infiltrating their communities. Others demand an end to U.S. drone strikes before they will allow immunizations to proceed. The attack on the immunization program produces a barbarous prospect — the return of a disease on the brink of extinction.

Polio is a highly contagious infection that attacks the nervous systems of mostly young children. It has paralyzed and killed millions throughout history. Parents once dreaded summer in America when thousands, mostly children, died. Advances in medicine during the last half of the 20th century led to vaccines and drastically reduced the disease’s toll. The World Health Organization reports the number of global polio cases has declined from 350,000 in 1988 to only 223 in 2012, making the complete eradication of polio by 2018 a realistic goal.

That all changes in places where 12th-century charlatans care more about making political points than for their own children. The killings of health workers has already slowed the elimination of the disease, with around 200 cases tallied each of the past two years. Islamic children pay for this dark shadow of the Osama bin Laden era.

The Washington Times

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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