In Pakistan this week, nine people who were working for a group that provides polio vaccinations were murdered after rumors spread that the workers were actually injecting Muslims with chemicals to sterilize them.
One of the main propagators of the rumors is Sartaj Khan, a 42-year-old lawyer in the city of Peshawar. “These vaccines are meant to destroy our nation,” said Khan to a reporter from NBC News. “The [polio] drops make men less manly, and make women more excited and less bashful. Our enemies want to wipe us out.”
Khan believes that the Pakistani government’s anti-polio campaign is a ruse by the Americans to sterilize or spy on Muslims. The rumors have gained credibility in the wake of the United States’ secret mission to kill Osama Bin Ladin, in which a fake vaccination program was used to gain access to the Al Queda leader. The health workers who are involved in the polio vaccination program, including the nine who were murdered, are also in the employ of the United States.
In June, in the wake of the mission that killed Bin Ladin, Taliban authorities in northwest Pakistan announced a ban on polio vaccines for children in the region as long as the United States continues its campaign of drone strikes in the region.
The nine health care workers, some of whom were teenaged girls, were murdered by assailants riding on the backs of motorcycles, a style of execution also employed by the Israeli Secret Service against the Palestinian leadership.
Five of the workers were murdered on Tuesday, and four more were gunned down on Wednesday, all in separate attacks. Because of the murders, Pakistani authorities decided to suspend the vaccination campaign throughout the country.
Despite the threat, Noorul Amin Mengal, one of the top government officials in the eastern city of Lahore, decided to continue the vaccination drive Thursday under police escort. About 6,000 Pakistani health workers were escorted by 3,000 police as they travelled across the city providing vaccinations for all who needed them.
Polio, which has been eradicated in much of the world, still has a foothold in Pakistan. It is especially devastating to the members of the Pashtun tribes, who account for about 15 percent of the Pakistan’s population, but 75 percent of all polio cases.
The number of polio cases spiked sharply last year, prompting Pakistan to step up its eradication efforts. As a result of that effort, the number of polio cases fell from 173 last year to 53 this year, according to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.