Thursday, July 21, 2011

CIA fake vaccination programme used in hunt for Osama bin Laden could cost lives

A fake immunisation programme used to trace Osama bin Laden has undermined medical aid and put lives at risk, says Frank Swain.

Last week it was claimed that the CIA had set up a fake vaccination programme in the town where Osama bin Laden was believed to be hiding in an attempt to obtain DNA evidence confirming the presence of family members. Genetic material retrieved from his infant relatives during vaccination would have been compared to a sample taken from Bin Laden’s sister, who died in a US hospital in 2010.

Shakil Afridi, a senior Pakistani doctor allegedly recruited by the CIA to head the clandestine operation in March, has since been arrested by Pakistani intelligence for his collusion. The revelations mark a further decline in relations between the two countries, although the US is in talks with Pakistan officials to secure Afridi’s release.

But the damage is likely to spread beyond diplomatic circles. By disguising its information-gathering exercise as a hepatitis B vaccination programme, the CIA threatens to erode trust in foreign-aid teams worldwide, undermining genuine efforts to eradicate life-threatening disease. (more)