If anything typifies the abysmal ignorance and fanatical cruelty of the Taliban, it’s the recent attacks on five female and one male polio vaccinators, shot dead in co-ordinated attacks across two cities in Pakistan.
The workers were intent on completing a worldwide campaign to rid the human race of a terrible, crippling disease. The light at the end of the tunnel for this illness appeared back in 1955, when Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin produced vaccines that could protect an individual against the polio virus.
Before then, parents around the world spent each summer worrying about their children, keeping them from public activities in an attempt to protect against polio.
Since then, tireless efforts by the World Health Organization have gradually compressed the areas around the globe which still harbor the disease.
Last year, the goal seemed to be in sight. The ultimate aim of the project, which involved 90,000 health workers, was to provide anti-viral drops to 35 million children.
But then came the Taliban’s attacks, deliberately calculated to sow fear in the minds of health workers and to force their organizations to stop the effort.
“These attacks are a double tragedy,” said Sarah Crowe, Unicef’s spokeswoman, after the attacks. “The work done to eradicate polio is pioneering. It has helped build up a foundation for stronger public health systems as health workers and polio vaccinators are often able to identify children who are missing out on routine immunizations.
“This comes at a time when Pakistan has made great strides against polio — last year 190 children contracted polio and this year it is 56. Every day the vaccination drive is on hold, more children lose out.”
The Taliban has banned such health programs in many parts of Pakistan’s north-west, claiming they are part of a U.S.-backed plan to sterilize Muslims, and that health workers are spies.
This bias was not helped when CIA established a fake hepatitis drive in the city of Abbottabad to try to obtain information about Osama bin Laden, prior to his death.
Pakistan is one of only three nations in the world — the others are Nigeria and Afghanistan — still threatened by polio.
As long as fear and ignorance continue to drive the Taliban, more of the children they claim to care about will be stricken, sicken, die and be crippled.
And Taliban clerics who preach against the West will bear the guilt for their suffering.