Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Studies (CHRHS)

Impact of War of Terror on Polio Vaccination Programs

Implications for COVID-19 Vaccination in Pakistan

Health workers visit a slum area to administer polio vaccines to children, in Lahore, Pakistan, Monday, Dec. 13, 2021. The government launched polio vaccination drives across Pakistan in hopes to eradicate the crippling disease by the end of the year. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)

This research project explores how the ongoing global war on terror has impacted the vaccination programs of serious communicable diseases, most particularly the poliovirus, in Pakistan over the period of two decades. It assess how the events of drone attacks, CIA use of door to door visits, and conspiracy theories have influenced the administration of polio vaccination campaigns in the core areas of Peshawar, Sindh and the Quetta block, mainly the Pashto-speaking populations of Pakistan. The project further investigates the implications of the long term developed conspiracy theories impacting the recent COVID-19 vaccinations in the country.

The study uses a mixed method approach. A series of interviews and focus groups will be held with key informants of the teams responsible for vaccinating children for polio virus from district health departments. The project intends to work with the attached departments of the Ministry of National Health Services, The Polio Eradication Program under the joint administration of WHO and UNICEF and National and Provincial Disaster Management Authorities to explore the hurdles faced by the administering teams while vaccinating the designated areas. The investigators will also interview the government departments’ representatives responsible for administering COVID-19 vaccination. In addition to the interviews, a survey will be designed and administered to gather citizens’ feedback regarding their perceptions for the vaccination programs. 

Research Update

Project Phase I:
The first half of the project conducted survey in the cities of KPK and Baluchistan and gathered public’s insights on their reservations for getting vaccinated for polio vaccine.

Survey Administration:
The survey data was collected using local teams consisting of people most familiar with the
conditions, cultural, and other sensibilities. This was especially helpful in gaining data from rural regions which were difficult to access and gather data. The research assistants were tasked to oversee and guide the teams in the process of data collection and ensure quality and relevance of the data. Student Volunteer groups and Unions were used to gather data from KPK whereas the data from Baluchistan was gathered through Quetta University of Baluchistan whose faculty members (contacts) recruited their local research associates and assigned them the data collection exercise. The data collection was completed over a period of more than six weeks.

Project Phase II:
The second half of the project conducted interviews from the government appointed polio teams who are responsible for going door to door and get children vaccinated.

Voices from the provinces of KPK and Baluchistan (Pakistan) for not getting vaccinated

Ashraf from polio team narrated
“If we have a convincing religious scholar who is famous in that community, people are more likely to opt for the polio vaccination for their kids”

Qudsia shared with a polio worker
“The US offers so much incentives to polio vaccine, the administering teams and security. If they give us also a good amount of money, we would get our kids vaccinated.”

Shirmeen shared
“People assume the polio vaccination team is comprised of medical doctors, hence they bring their sick kids and ask us to give them medicines for fever or other illnesses. When we tell them we are not regular medical doctors, they say how would you prevent or treat polio if you cannot address other illnesses”

A polio worker recalled the voice of an angry grandmother from a common house
“We do not have any other Osama bin Laden in our home. Does that satisfy you enough? If yes, please leave, we are not interested in any type of vaccination.”

The data collection is still in process. Due to the extreme floods 2022 the reachability into the desired areas has remained extremely challenging. Few cities are still stuck with water hence difficult to reach.