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Pakistan Health Official Murdered: Anti-Polio Vaccine Islamists to Blame?

Particularly horrible news from Pakistan, via the BBC:

A senior health official has been killed and three guards injured in a bomb blast in Pakistan’s tribal region bordering Afghanistan, officials say.

The dead man, Abdul Ghani Khan, played a key role in a polio immunisation drive in the Bajaur tribal region.

…It is not clear if he was targeted because of his work to eradicate polio in the area.

Khan’s murder comes weeks after a cleric in Darra Adam Khel issued a fatwa calling for the killing of NGO workers. The South Asia Citizens Wire distributed a press release from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan on the subject:

…The edict labels international organizations, including those falling under the UN umbrella and the International Red Cross, as well as local NGOs working for human rights, as agents of the Jews and the West.

…What is far more disturbing than the threats themselves is the failure of authorities to prosecute those responsible for making them. The latest Fatwa’, like many others distributed previously, is not anonymous. Its author has affixed to it his name and qualifications. The Fatwa’ has also been pasted up as posters across the Darra Adam Khel area. Therefore, the authorities cannot claim they are unable to trace the source of incitement to hatred and murder. Pretending ignorance of those guilty of preaching violence amounts to collusion.

The cleric was a certain Mufti Khalid Shah. The Guardian reported on the anti-vaccine phenomenon just a few days ago:

…The parents of 24,000 children in northern Pakistan refused to allow health workers to administer polio vaccinations last month, mostly due to rumours that the harmless vaccine was an American plot to sterilise innocent Muslim children.

…The scaremongering and appeals to Islam echoed a similar campaign in the Nigerian state of Kano in 2003, where the disease then spread to 12 polio-free countries over the following 18 months. Pakistan is one of just four countries where polio remains endemic. The others are Nigeria, India and Afghanistan.

As I blogged at the time (see my entries here, here, and here), the Kano tragedy was the fault of Kano governor Ibrahim Shekarau and Lagos State University Professor Hussain Abdulkareem. Both men deliberately distorted scientific findings in order to spread hysteria against the vaccine, with the result that polio spread far and wide before an alternative Muslim-sourced vaccine was acquired from Indonesia. Although he named no names, President Obasanjo suggested that someone had manipulated the situation for profit, and told the press that one of those most opposed to the western-sourced vaccine had previously failed to win a government contract to import it.

A few weeks ago, Channel 4 aired a documentary in the UK on Islamic extremism which included extracts from a DVD featuring Sheik Khalid Yasin. According to Yasin,

…Missionaries from the World Health Organisation and Christian groups went into Africa and inoculated people for diphtheria, malaria, yellow fever and they put in the medicine the Aids virus, which is a conspiracy.

In Nigeria and Pakistan, the conspiracy theory is that the vaccine contains estrogen or estriadoil, and that this will lead to genital deformity and male infertility. In Pakistan, as well as the wretched Mufti Khalid Shah, the notion has been spread by a radio host named Maulana Fazlullah. The BBC reported on him just a few months ago:

Amirullah Khan, a resident of NWFP’s Swat district, quoted Maulana Fazlullah of a local FM channel as telling his listeners the vaccination drive was “a conspiracy of the Jews and Christians to stunt the population growth of Muslims”.

Maulana Fazlullah confirmed this to BBC, saying if the international organisations were keen on improving the health of the Muslims, they should help the hepatitis-C patients in the area.

The vaccine was also the subject of a petition in Peshawar in July 2006:

…in a move that has fuelled the rumours circulating in some communities, the High Court began hearing a petition filed by Ghulam Nabi, a Peshawar resident.

The petition called for the US $167 million polio eradication programme to be stopped, claiming that the vaccine contained high levels of the hormone estrogen, which can affect human reproduction. The court has sought responses from the government and the WHO, which has denied the claim.

The panic has also spread to India, as I blogged here, although in that country Islamic schools have been mobilized in favour of the vaccine.

3 Responses

  1. Richard, glad you are keeping the excellent blog going. I tried to send you e-mail but both of the last addresses I had for you appear to be dead. Please drop a line.

  2. […] Nigeria hysteria spread to Pakistan, where an Islamist cleric named Pakistan is one of four nations where polio is yet to […]

  3. […] FM radio campaign against the vaccine is led by Maulana Fazlullah, whom I blogged last year. A recent article by Shaheen Buneri at Media Line provides further details in a profile of the […]

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