Michael Gerson: When healers are the targets

BY MICHAEL GERSON Published: December 22, 2012
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In retrospect, the CIA operation was a mistake. Exploiting the unique social standing of health workers in the preparation for a military raid was bound, if revealed, to undermine vaccination efforts. Health and development efforts in Pakistan — on which the U.S. spends billions each year — are also part of the fight against extremism.

Using any excuse

But the effects of a single CIA operation should not be overestimated. The conspiratorial rumors about vaccines in some traditional Muslim societies — that they are unclean under Islamic law, that they contain the AIDS virus, that they are designed to sterilize Muslim minority groups — pre-existed the bin Laden raid.

And even in an atmosphere of suspicion in Pakistan, parental refusal of the polio vaccine for their children is a relatively small part of the problem — accounting for less than 2 percent of the total number of children approached in most of the country. “The bigger issue to tackle,” says Jay Wenger, director of the Gates Foundation's polio program, “is the effectiveness and efficiency of the vaccine delivery program. … Improving its quality is still the biggest barrier.”

That delivery program is precisely what the Taliban are targeting in their recent escalation. And they would make use of any excuse. They sack the world and history for grievances to justify murder. And now they intentionally paralyze children as a strategy of war.

WASHINGTON POST WRITERS GROUP