Lord Eric Avebury writes…Polio and Terrorism

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative, set up by the World Health Organisation (WHO),has reduced the number paralysed by polio from 350,000 in 1988 to 405 in 2013, and the number of countries where the disease is endemic has been cut from 125 to just 3 –Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan. But progress has come to a grinding halt, with Pakistan reporting 174 new cases so far this year out of 193 worldwide.

The WHO says there is a high risk that this highly infectious disease will spread to other parts of the world, paralysing many of its victims.

Three quarters of all cases are reported from two lawless areas of Pakistan, Khyber Pakhtunkwa (KP) and the misleadingly named Federally Administered Tribal Areas. In these provinces terrorists call the shots, intimidating and murdering those who don’t agree with their fundamentalist brand of Islam.

The terrorists and their clerical allies decreed in 2012 that vaccination was a western plot to sterilise Muslim children, and a cover for spies following the use by the CIA of a fake vaccination project to track down Osama bin Laden. A local warlord Hafiz Gul Bahadur was ‘persuaded’ to ban vaccination in the tribal region of Waziristan in June 2012, and this was endorsed by the chiefs in other tribal areas and in KP.

The ban was reinforced by threats, but some 59 health workers and security men giving them protection have been murdered since December 2012. In March 2014 Ms Salma Farooqi a 30-year old mother of five, who had worked in the campaign against polio for years, was dragged from her home in Peshawar and was tortured and butchered in a field, no doubt as a message to the other ‘Lady Health Workers’.

Peshawar, labelled by the WHO as the ‘largest reservoir of endemic polio virus in the world’, is also a major centre of terrorism. The MP for KP, which includes Peshawar, is the ex-cricketer, millionaire playboy and now leader of the opposition Imran Khan. He supports the polio campaign and had been threatened, he says, by a little-known affiliate of the main terrorist organisation for doing so. But at the same time he opposed military action against the terrorists who are doing their best to spread polio in his constituency and beyond.

Pakistan launched a new ‘war on terrorism’ in July in one of the tribal areas, North Waziristan; but in spite of assistance from US drone strikes, terrorist attacks in the region continued unabated, with a bomb blast in Peshawar on the festival of Eid-ul-Adha, October 4.

It may be impossible to eradicate polio, as long as there are well-organised groups in Pakistan dedicated to murdering the health workers who deliver the vaccination of children. The anti-Islamic ideology which sponsors those atrocious crimes must be eradicated as an even greater threat to humanity than the disease itself.


* Eric Lubbock, Lord Avebury, is a working peer, and Vice-Chair, Parliamentary Human Rights Group. He blogs here.

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  • Denis Mollison 15th Oct '14 - 12:18am

    I strongly agree on this important issue.

    There are depressingly few infectious diseases that we presently have a realistic hope of eradicating. The only major success so far (for human diseases) has been smallpox ca. 1980. We were on the verge of eradicating polio before this sad outbreak of ignorance. I also agree that the US must bear some of the blame for using a fake vaccination programme to track down Osama bin Laden; that was grossly irresponsible.

  • Excellent report which I hope will help draw attention to the madness and crimes taking hold in some parts of the world.
    The facts in Eric’s piece should put into perspective some rather less important issues.

    BTW — with regard to the ex-cricketer, millionaire playboy Imran Khan. He found time at the last General Election to visit my local mosque to campaign for the very, very Conservative Zac Goldsmith.
    A case of millionaire playboys sticking together I suppose.

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