BBC News – White House: CIA has ended use of vaccine programmes

A Pakistani child is given the oral polio vaccine, 19 May 2014Pakistan is in the grip of a polio crisis, in part because Taliban violence against health workers has hindered vaccination campaigns

The CIA has ended the use of vaccine programmes in its spying operations amid concerns for the safety of health workers, the White House has said.

In a letter to US public health schools, a White House aide said the CIA stopped such practices in August.

The CIA reportedly used a fake vaccine programme in its effort to learn the whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden.

The CIA’s move comes after deadly attacks by militants on polio vaccination workers in Pakistan.

Analysis

The decision will be welcomed in Pakistan, where polio has been spreading fast since the Taliban banned the vaccination campaign two years ago.

Before the statement from Washington, Professor Ibrahim Khan, an intermediary for the Taliban, told the BBC the militants wanted assurances that the vaccination programme wasn’t being used for other purposes.

He said he was hopeful the Taliban would then lift the ban on the vaccine but he added it was also contingent on the success of peace negotiations with the government. The talks are stalled for now. The ministry of interior has said access to the polio vaccination would lead the agenda of the next round of talks.

More than 60 polio workers and security personnel were killed between December 2012 and April 2014, most of them in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, according to Pakistani officials and humanitarian workers, even as the country is suffering a grave resurgence of the disease.

Sixty-six cases of polio have been declared in Pakistan since January, compared to only eight during the same period last year.

The World Health Organisation and the UN’s agency for children have issued a statement saying they appreciated the US government’s commitment.

In a letter dated 16 May, the White House assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, Lisa Monaco, wrote that CIA director John Brennan had directed the agency to cease “operational use of vaccine programmes”.

“Similarly, the Agency will not seek to obtain or exploit DNA or other genetic material acquired through such programmes,” she wrote, adding the policy applied worldwide to US and non-US persons alike.

Genetic material obtained through a fake door-to-door hepatitis B vaccination programme reportedly helped the CIA confirm Bin Laden’s whereabouts in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad.

The al-Qaeda leader was killed in a May 2011 raid by US special forces.

The Pakistani doctor accused of running the vaccination campaign remains in jail.

Dr Shakil Afridi was convicted of ties to militant groups, which he denies, and imprisoned in 2012. The move is widely seen as punishment for his helping the CIA.

Correspondents say he is regarded as a traitor by Pakistan’s security agencies.

CIA director John Brennan (11 March 2014)Monaco said Brennan had ordered the CIA to half use of the programmes

20 May 2014 | 2:04 pm – Source: bbc.co.uk
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