Immunization workers murdered: The price of killing Osama bin Laden

The price has been in lives.  The capture and killing of Osama bin Laden occurred without loss of any U.S. military lives.  It was hailed as a hugely successful special forces and intelligence operation. Still to believe that the operation was accomplished without the loss of life is both incorrect and naive. The lives lost have been those of polio vaccination workers murdered in the backlash against the use of CIA operatives masquerading as immunization workers to gather intelligence in Pakistan.  Other lives changed forever are those of children who have been and will be paralyzed by polio who will not receive vaccination against polio in the aftermath of this intelligence gathering deception.

Since it became known that the CIA used a Pakistani physician to obtain DNA from a child while administering a hepatitis vaccine to children in the compound where bin Laden was hiding, the Muslim violence against polio vaccine workers has intensified and far more children are not receiving polio vaccine.  More than 20 vaccination workers have been killed by Taliban and other fundamentalist Muslim factions since then.

This is a big change in the level of danger of this already difficult mission.  Many more areas of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria have become unreachable to vaccination workers.  The cost of the fight on polio is over $1 billion annually, and in the last 25 years has been incredibly successful.

Prior to the start of the global push to eradicate polio over 350,000 children annually were paralyzed.  The Rotary International-led PolioPlus campaign, working with governments and the Gates Foundation has been extraordinarily successful.   Last year only 250 cases of paralytic polio were diagnosed, and only in 3 nations, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria.  India was the last country declared to have gone a full year without a case of wild strain polio, joining most of the rest of the world as polio free.

Now reaching these remaining areas, all in Muslim controlled regions, is increasingly difficult and dangerous.

I’m not a military analyst, and I consider myself very pro-American, but I am very skeptical that the decision to use a CIA operative posing as an immunization worker in the hunt for Osama bin Laden was worth the relatively easy to anticipate consequences on the war on polio.  What do you think?  Was getting bin Laden worth it?  Was the information gathered so valuable as to endanger this effort to eradicate polio, put vaccination workers at risk for their lives, and prevent children from getting vaccinated?

Edward Pullen is a family physician who blogs at

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