Health educators to Obama: Stop coopting aid projects for covert operations

A door-to-door polio vaccination drive in Pakistan. A fake vaccination drive in 2011 that was allegedly used by the U.S. government to locate Osama bin Laden has created mistrust among the people of Pakistan. Photo by: Ground Report / CC BY NC

A number of U.S. public health advocates  in an apparent response to recent deadly violence against aid workers in Pakistan have joined forces to oppose the use of public programs as a front for covert intelligence operations.

A fake vaccination drive in 2011 allegedly used by the U.S. government to confirm the location of Osama bin Laden  has created mistrust among people of Pakistan, sparking violence against aid workers that has turned deadly on several occasions. U.N.-led vaccination campaigns have since been banned in Taliban-held areas.

“While political and security agendas may by necessity induce collateral damage, we as an open society set boundaries on these damages, and we believe this sham vaccination campaign exceeded those boundaries,” deans of some of America’s top public health schools wrote in a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday (Jan. 10).

The letter follows a similar call by Charles Kenny of the Center for Global Development, who proposed in December for Obama to amend Executive Order 12333, adding the paragraph: “No person acting on behalf of elements of the Intelligence Community may join or otherwise participate in any activity directly related to the provision of child public health services on behalf of any element of the Intelligence Community.”

The United States is the largest bilateral donor to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, according to the deans. But “sham” vaccination drives have led to setbacks in the fight against the disease. Kenny said “global eradication would free Americans from [thet threat of polio] for ever.”

Two health workers were shot dead in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on Newyear’s Day. The incident has led Support With Working Solutions, an NGO, to suspend its work in the country, and others to reconsider security measures.

The United States has been criticized before for using development programs to advance security interests. What do you think? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.