Alleged fake CIA vaccination campaign undermines medical care

MSF condemns use of medical aid for military objectives; reported ruse risks damaging trust critical for health workers and humanitarian aid

The United States government’s alleged misuse of a vaccination campaign in Pakistan for counter-terrorism purposes constitutes a dangerous abuse of medical care, which threatens the trust essential for health agencies and humanitarian aid workers to provide lifesaving medical services, the international medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today.

“Whether true or not, the mere suggestion that the provision of medical care was carried out under false pretenses damages public perception of the true purpose of medical action,” said Dr. Unni Karunakara, MSF’s international president. “With all populations in crisis, it is challenging enough for health agencies and humanitarian aid workers to gain access to, and the trust of, communities, especially populations already skeptical of the motives of any outside assistance.”

Deceptive use of medical care also endangers those who provide legitimate and essential health services. Furthermore, carrying out an act of no therapeutic or preventative benefit purely for military or intelligence purposes violates medical ethics, which require acting solely on the needs of patients and doing no harm.

Impartial humanitarian assistance requires acceptance from all communities and warring parties – whether national governments, armed opposition movements, international forces, or even criminal groups. In all conflicts or highly politicized environments, this access can only be achieved by actions that demonstrate humanitarian providers are acting only in the interests of those receiving care.

“The alleged fake CIA vaccination campaign constitutes a grave manipulation of the medical act,” said Dr. KARUNAKARA. “The risk is that vulnerable communities—anywhere—needing access to essential health services will understandably question the true motivation of medical workers and humanitarian aid. The potential consequence is that even basic health care, including vaccination, does not reach those who need it most.”

MSF is an independent medical humanitarian organisation that provides assistance to people affected by armed conflicts, epidemics, man-made and natural disaster, and exclusion from health care in more than 65 countries.

MSF has been working in Pakistan since 1986, providing free medical assistance to displaced communities and to Afghan refugees, to victims of conflict, and to people with limited access to care. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, MSF teams are present in Kurram Agency, Hangu, Lower Dir, Peshawar, Malakand and Swat districts. MSF is also working in Balochistan and Sindh Provinces. To ensure its independence in Pakistan, MSF solely relies on private financial contributions from individuals around the world and does not accept funding from any government, donor agency, or from any military or politically-affiliated group.