In an op-ed published today by The Baltimore Sun, Michael J. Klag, dean of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and Lynn R. Goldman, dean of the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services in Washington, D.C., write that a fake vaccination program run by the CIA in Pakistan to facilitate the global hunt for Osama bin Laden threatens the larger global effort to eradicate polio by creating mistrust and endangering health care workers.
The number of new polio cases has dropped from 350,000 in 1988 to 650 in 2011, Klag and Goldman write, thanks in part to the persistent efforts of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. But the virus still exists in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria, and the use of vaccination programs as fronts for covert operations sets back the fight to eliminate the crippling and potentially fatal illness, they contend.
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A massive vaccination effort like this one requires a bond of public trust, one that was broken by the CIA. The U.S. took the first step toward repairing the atmosphere of mistrust by admitting to the sham vaccination effort. Now, the president and Congress must take the next step by erecting a firewall between public health programs, like the global polio initiative, and espionage or other covert operations conducted by the CIA.