The News We All Wish Were a Conspiracy Theory

I would bet my next paycheck that there is not a global health blogger out there who has not expressed his or her outrage at the recent revelation that the CIA used a hepatitis vaccination campaign in Abbottabad as a front for an operation to obtain a blood sample from bin Laden’s children, in order to verify that he was, in fact, hiding out there.  If this sounds like something out of the movie Conspiracy Theory to you, you are not alone – alas, it is unfortunately, tragically true, and could be potentially disastrous.

Anyone who knows anything about the importance of, and difficulty in implementing, vaccination campaigns understands what an atrocious idea this was and what a mess it could leave behind. Vaccine advocates have spent many years and millions of dollars debunking myths and misinformation, informing people of the benefits of vaccines, and working to gain the trust of political and religious leaders and their communities.  You would think it would be obvious that no one is going to let anybody stick a needle in their kid’s arm unless they have good reason to believe it will help and not harm them – and all it takes is one bad PR move to earn the distrust of parents.  Hell, look at the damage one study did to childhood vaccinations in the U.S. and the UK.  Even after the Wakefield study was proven flawed, dozens of other studies disproved it, and the doctor himself was shown guilty of misconduct, many parents still believe vaccines may cause autism (my mother included). Apparently, the CIA did not bother to check with anyone on the collateral damage they might have caused – or, if they did, they simply did not care.

Brett Keller sums it up beautifully:

This is absolutely terrible, and not just because the kids originally involved might not have gotten the second round of vaccine (which is bad) or because it will make the work of legitimate public health officials in Pakistan even harder (which is very bad). Vaccines are amazing innovations that save millions of lives, and they are so widely respected that combatants have gone to extraordinary lengths to allow vaccination campaigns to proceed in the midst of war. For instance, UNICEF has brokered ceasefires in Afghanistan and Pakistan for polio vaccine campaigns which are essential since those are two of the four countries where polio transmission has never been interrupted.

He also has a great round-up at the bottom of his post of the other blogs that have covered it.

The greatest irony of all may be that the scheme did not even work – sources suggest that the doctor who spearheaded the project did not get what he was after.  Regardless of the project’s “success,” it is a slap in the face to public health professionals who have devoted their careers to promoting vaccination as a way to protect children (and adults) from the world’s most devastating diseases.

Global Health News Last Week

SECTION NEWS

The 2011 IH Section award winners have been announced!

  • Lifetime Achievement Award: Henry Mosley
  • Mid-Career Award: Neil Arya
  • Service to Section Award: Donna Barry
  • Gordon Wyon Award: John Bryant

Congratulations to this year’s awardees!  They will be honored at the section social on Monday night of this year’s Annual Meeting, so don’t miss it!


July 11 was World Population Day.  In honor of WPD this week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for a greater focus on providing improved health to mothers and children.

POLITICS AND POLICY

  • Last week, a United States federal appeals court overturned  a George W. Bush-era “anti-prostitution pledge” that required all organizations that receive US funds to fight HIV and AIDS to adopt a formal position condemning prostitution and trafficking.
  • Uganda’s legislative body has passed a bill that will criminalize  the intentional spread of HIV/AIDS.
  • An in-depth report by Gregg  Carlstrom for Al Jazeera examines the state of the new Republic  of South Sudan’s health systems. Future plans appear to be in the right direction, but the present health situation is dire for the newly established
    country.
  • U.S. officials are defending  the CIA’s use of a vaccination program in the hunt for al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden amid concerns from international aid groups that the operation  could compromise future public health efforts in Pakistan. The CIA orchestrated a hepatitis vaccination program in the city of Abbottabad in a bid to collect DNA evidence to help identify the location of bin Laden family members.
  • A growing reluctance from donor countries to provide funds to help ever-wealthier China battle HIV/AIDS will adversely affect efforts against the disease’s spread, says Michel Sidibe, head of UNAIDS.

PROGRAMS

  • The Medicines Patent Pool, established by UNITAID to share drug patents, has just received its first contribution from Gilead Sciences. This will allow Indian generics companies to make cheap copies of some of the best HIV/AIDS drugs.

RESEARCH

  • A new study has shown that ARVs taken by women with HIV/AIDS may have an effect on fertility.
  • The United Nations praised a study showing that the use of ARVs by people with HIV can reduce chance of infection between partners by 73%.
  • Mosquitoes are growing increasingly resistant to pyrethroids, the only insecticides approved by the WHO for use on bednets.
  • HIV/AIDS drugs can be used to provide additional protection against infection as well as for treatment of those already affect by the disease, according to results of two studies conducted in Africa.
  • Researchers in Tanzania are developing a device that uses the scent of malodorous human socks to attract mosquitoes in the wild, then poisons them. Donations of $775,000 announced today by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Grand Challenges Canada are intended to reduce the global infection rate of malaria by producing an affordable outdoor trap ranging in cost from between $4 and $27.
  • A new study says that an inexpensive de-worming pill can help people become deadly to malaria-carrying mosquitoes, but for the pill to work, nearly everyone in a community would have to take the pill at the same time — and repeat monthly. The drug reduces insect lifespan, helping against malaria because only the older mosquitoes can transmit it.

DISEASES AND DISASTERS

  • The World Health Organization says the world is better prepared for the next influenza pandemic. The centerpiece of the plan is to strengthen the capacity of manufacturers to provide enough vaccines to immunize the world’s population against influenza.
  • The WHO has certified that Uganda has successfully eliminated maternal and neonatal tetanus.
  • According to a report published in March 2011 by the United Nations Environment Programme, only two in every five people in the Southern Africa have access to safe water for drinking and household use. Three quarters of those lacking access, live in rural areas and the majority of these are women and children.
  • The CDC has expressed concern over the recently discovered strain of gonorrhea in Japan that is resistant to all present antibiotic treatments.
  • Drug manufacturers, government representatives and pharmacists from six countries in East Africa have estimated that as much as 30 percent of all drugs on the market are either of very poor quality or counterfeit medicines.
  • A lack of financial support and political will are contributing to the upsurge of measles in 33 countries. In an video interview, Andrea Gay at Measles Initiative, explains the different reasons for measles outbreaks in the developing and developed countries.
  • The number of children facing death by starvation in Somalia has almost doubled since March and the country’s child malnutrition rate is now the highest in the world, the International Committee of the Red Cross warns. Aid agencies have struggled to reach Somalis affected by drought due to security concerns across the conflict-ravaged country.