Foreign Policy Blogs

Healthcare Cannot Be An Anti-Terrorism Ploy

This week, The Guardian reported that the CIA fabricated a vaccination program in Abbottabad, Pakistan, as part of its efforts to track down Osama Bin Laden.  The scheme was hatched in an attempt to collect DNA from the Bin Laden family to verify its presence in the area.  This tactic is concerning, to say the least, and much has already been said, with thought and eloquence, about the issue.  Christopher Albon of Conflict Health states: “…health care is not a weapon and any use of it as such deserves full-throated condemnation.”  Alanna Shaikh at Foreign Policy examines the history of health as a weapon (or a ruse) and the implications for future vaccination drives and public health efforts.  And in an opinion piece in The Washington Post, Orin Levine and Laurie Garrett point out that the CIA “destroyed credibility that wasn’t its to erode.”

Perhaps the most concerning aspect for many (and for me), beyond using health care as part of a military intelligence operation (with children, no less), is that to make the program seem realistic, Pakistani children were reportedly given the first round of three Hepatitis B shots before the workers participating in the “program” relocated elsewhere. The full 3-shot dose was not administered (check back to The Guardian article).  All of this rests in the context of steep uphill battles to administer vaccines worldwide and to decrease distrust and lack of awareness about vaccines, reach the hardest-to-reach, and curb diseases, like polio and Hepatitis, that have decimated communities.

Killing Osama Bin Laden is a discussion for another day–I still find it hard to know what I think or what to say about it.  Using techniques to find him that potentially put the health of many children at greater risk and undermine global health efforts, however, are not acceptable.  This particular situation evokes, for me, those doctors who played a role in creating the United States’ “enhanced interrogation techniques,” or torture, used against terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay.  There is a reason for the Hippocratic Oath–we must put our trust and faith in medical workers, who are given given access to our homes, families, and bodies and are asked to improve our health and save our lives.  Health care should not and cannot be a milieu where suspicion is foremost.



Julia Robinson
Julia Robinson

Julia Robinson has worked in South Africa at an NGO that helps to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV and in Sierra Leone for an organization that provides surgeries, medical care, and support to women suffering from obstetric fistula. She is interested in human rights, global health, social justice, and innovative, unconventional solutions to global issues. Julia lives in San Francisco, where she works for a sustainability and corporate social responsibility non-profit. She has a BA in African History from Columbia University.

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