How drone strikes and a fake vaccination program have inhibited polio eradication in Pakistan: An analysis of national level data
International Journal of Health Services
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This paper investigates whether the USA’s counterinsurgency operations have inhibited polio eradication efforts in northwestern Pakistan, the world’s last major reservoir of polio. Anecdotal evidence suggests that militants disrupt polio vaccination programs because of suspicions that campaigns are a cover for gathering intelligence on CIA drone targets. This paper analyzes national-level quantitative data to test this argument. Between 2004 and 2012 the number of polio cases in Pakistan closely mirrored drone strikes. But from 2013 polio cases increased while drone strikes fell. This can be explained by the CIA’s use of a fake immunization campaign in a failed attempt to obtain Osama bin Laden’s relatives’ DNA prior to his assassination in 2011. This seemingly vindicated militants’ suspicions that vaccination programs were a cover for espionage. Militants consequently intensified their disruption of immunization campaigns, resulting in an increase in polio cases in Pakistan, as well as Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq. For politicians and military planners, drones are attractive because they are said to harm fewer civilians than conventional methods of warfare. But this paper demonstrates that drone strikes had negative effects on the wellbeing of civilians in Pakistan and further afield because they undermined global efforts to eradicate polio.
- Population Health