Killings and spread of disease

Growing risks for aid workers

While humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and operational independence may seem unthreatening, aid workers have found themselves caught up in political, ethnic and religious tensions.

The Foreign Office official told IRIN: “Militants’ fear that NGO or health workers could be spies, may be spreading into other realms,” an allegation that predates 2011, but which was reinforced by the death of former Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden in May of that year.

In 2011 Shakil Afridi, a government-employed doctor, collected DNA samples from a residential house in Abbotabad which helped the US Central Intelligence Agency identify the whereabouts of Bin Laden, who was killed in a US raid. It is alleged that Afridi, since sentenced to 33 years in jail, masqueraded in his native Khyber Agency as a polio vaccinator in order to collect the samples.

Ehsanullah Ehsan, a spokesman for militant group Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, told IRIN: “Afridi was a traitor and naturally people now suspect all anti-polio workers of being US agents.”

Health worker Shahida Bibi, 40, who works in the Mardan District of KP and has regularly participated in anti-polio campaigns, told IRIN: “this is certainly a factor in recent attacks on polio workers.”

She also said other notions, like the “myth sometimes spread by clerics that polio drops cause sterility and are a `Western conspiracy’ to reduce Muslims in the world”, sometimes accounted for hostility and refusals by parents to have children vaccinated.

Security concerns look set to hamper efforts to deliver aid, and eradicate polio in particular. In 2011, Pakistan had 198 cases – more than anywhere else in the world, according to WHO.

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