I remember around 10 years back, a friend who is a doctor, went to an impoverished locality in Karachi with a team to vaccinate children against some disease(s). Their team was harassed by some ignorant and mostly illiterate people who felt that such vaccination campaigns are part of a “western conspiracy” to harm them. “Why are you sticking needles in our children?” and so forth. This reaction was (is) quite common in Pakistan. However, over the years, some progress had been made in raising peoples awareness about diseases and prevention. These are our local problems. But these problems are exacerbated and whatever little progress that has been made on the local front recedes very quickly, when the imperial machine dives into the thick of things with its cold brutal logic. Here’s one story:
The US was trying to catch Osama bin Laden. In order to find bin Laden, the CIA launched a fraudulent vaccination campaign in a poor neighborhood in Abbottabad to collect DNA. However, they left it uncompleted, and moved to a richer area where Osama was thought to be. This lapse in medical protocol violated, among other things, the Hippocratic oath. It also put at risk genuine health workers associated with a polio vaccination program in Pakistan (who were then also suspected to be spies), and many were abducted and killed. This forced the UN to withdraw its anti-polio team.
Quoting from a recent article that appeared in the Scientific American: “The distrust sowed by the sham campaign in Pakistan could conceivably postpone polio eradication for 20 years, leading to 100,000 more cases that might otherwise not have occurred, says Leslie F. Roberts of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. “Forevermore, people would say this disease, this crippled child is because the U.S. was so crazy to get Osama bin Laden,” he argues.
The vaccination ruse also poses a moral problem. Physicians take a Hippocratic oath to do no harm. Humanitarian workers adhere to an international code of conduct that requires that their services be provided independently of national agendas, on the basis of need alone. The misguided vaccine program in Pakistan was started in a poor neighborhood of Abbottabad, no doubt to give it an air of legitimacy. Yet after the first in a standard series of three hepatitis B shots was given, the effort was abandoned so that the team could move to bin Laden’s wealthier community. This lapse in protocol proves that the best interests of the recipients were not the guiding principle of the effort—while not coincidently betraying the program for the sham it was.”
Of course, the Hippocratic oath might have been violated but the Hypocritic (sic) oath was upheld and that’s what really matters: All imperial states shall preach peace and democracy, while unleashing violence and destruction.
This also reminds me of a story that St. Augustine narrates in the City of God: A pirate was captured by Alexander the Great, who asked him how dare he molest the sea. “How dare you molest the whole world” the pirate replied. “Because I do it with a little ship only, I am called a thief; you, doing it with a great navy, are called an emperor”.