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Charles Kenny is a senior fellow and the director of technology and development at the Center for Global Development. His current work focuses on gender and development, the role of technology in development, governance and anticorruption and the post-2015 development agenda. He has published articles, chapters and books on issues including what we know about the causes of economic growth, the link between economic growth and broader development, the causes of improvements in global health, the link between economic growth and happiness, the end of the Malthusian trap, the role of communications technologies in development, the ‘digital divide,’ corruption, and progress towards the Millennium Development Goals. He is the author of the book "Getting Better: Why Global Development is Succeeding, and How We Can Improve the World Even More" and “The Upside of Down: Why the Rise of the Rest is Great for the West.” He has been a contributing editor at Foreign Policy magazine and a regular contributor to Business Week magazine. Kenny was previously at the World Bank, where his assignments included working with the VP for the Middle East and North Africa Region, coordinating work on governance and anticorruption in infrastructure and natural resources, and managing a number of investment and technical assistance projects covering telecommunications and the Internet.
Want to know what Americans think about the foreign aid budget? They think it is big. If they thought it were small, they might want to cut it less. On the other hand, they might not. In fact the real problem isn’t the actual or perceived size of the aid budget, it is what people think is done with it. They believe a lot of aid money is wasted. Want to shore up support for development assistance? Rather than say ‘but it is such a small amount!’ try persuading people it might do some good.
This week, eight polio vaccination workers in Sindh and Peshawar have been killed in Pakistan during a three day anti-polio drive (see here). Last week in Afghanistan, two polio vaccinators were also killed. Suspicions of CIA involvement in the campaign have been identified as causes of the attacks. “Our teams are getting attacked, and we are having a hard time hiring health workers because they are worried about being called a spy,” said the Head of Medicine in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province earlier this summer.
Senior Fellow Charles Kenny writes an op-ed addressing the dangers to Polio eradication efforts in the Middle East following the release of Zero Dark Thirty .
The following op-ed originally appeared in Bloomberg Business Week .
If you’ve been following the controversy surrounding the Oscar-nominated movie Zero Dark Thirty, you know that it’s been excoriated for various inaccuracies regarding the effort to catch Osama bin Laden. In particular, critics say the movie misleadingly suggests that the torture of al-Qaeda suspects produced the vital intelligence that led the U.S. to bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
That’s not the only thing the filmmakers got wrong. The film also depicts a fake polio vaccination drive organized by the CIA in an effort to collect DNA from bin Laden’s family. U.S. intelligence officials haveadmitted they set up a fake vaccination campaign—but for hepatitis B, not polio. As it turns out, the campaign didn’t give any protection against the disease to young children in the town while it also failed to collect genetic material from the bin Laden family.
Much like the creators of Zero Dark Thirty, the Taliban don’t appear too concerned about whether the vaccine was against hepatitis or polio—in their view, any vaccination worker could be in the employ of the CIA. Over the past two months, nearly a dozen polio vaccinators have been killed in Pakistan, most likely by the Taliban. Heightened popular suspicion and security concerns in Pakistan are putting in danger a remarkable record of global success toward wiping out polio, as well as progress against a range of other infectious diseases that kill millions of kids each year.
The world is achingly close to defeating polio. There were 350,000 cases as recently as 1988; last year there were less than 250 worldwide. A scourge that used to kill and maim millions could soon follow smallpox and (hopefully) guinea worm into extinction.
It’s been an incredible global effort, requiring a good deal of human bravery. In Bill Gates’s annual letter (PDF) about his foundation’s work released last week, he described how the effort to increase vaccination rates enlisted thousands of committed staff. In Nigeria, “polio workers walked through all high-risk areas in the northern part of the country. Step by step, they explored these areas and spoke with people, adding 3,000 communities to the immunization campaigns.” The anti-polio drive has prompted collaboration even among avowed foes. India, which has been polio-free in the last two years, recently hosted a high-level delegation from Pakistan to provide technical support toward the elimination program.
All this progress could be jeopardized if the disease spreads in the three countries that have never eliminated polio: Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan. The experience of northern Nigeria shows how the cost of local distrust can spread worldwide when it comes to infectious disease. In 2003, a polio vaccine boycott was held in the region when imams and local political leaders claimed the program was part of a U.S.-backed sterilization plot. From 2002 to 2006, vaccination rates in the country fell and polio rates increased fivefold. The Nigerian strain spread and reinfected countries previously polio-free, setting the global eradication campaign back by years.
Similarly, polio infections doubled (PDF) from 2009 to 2011 in Pakistan, and a polio virus strain originating from the country was recently discovered in sewage samples collected in Cairo in December. That suggests the disease could reemerge in Egypt, which has been polio-free since 2004.
The U.S. has been a leading force in saving children’s lives worldwide through vaccination programs against a wide range of diseases, including polio. It was the major funder of the campaign to wipe out smallpox; Rotary Clubs around the country have raised funds and awareness about global polio eradication for decades. International efforts supported by America to increase access to vaccines have had a huge impact. Take measles: In 1980, the disease killed 2.6 million people a year; thanks to a massive vaccine rollout, that number was down to 139,000 by 2010.
There’s reason to worry that the CIA’s failed vaccine ruse in Abbottabad has put continued progress at risk. That’s why the U.S. should publicly forswear repeating it. A formal ban on using campaigns as cover for intelligence operations wouldn’t stamp out all the conspiracy theories. Yet it might help make vaccine workers less of a target. Given that the decision to vaccinate is made by many millions of parents every year, even a marginal shift in attitudes for or against vaccination could save thousands of lives worldwide.
We already limit intelligence operations when they might clash with our broader interests or concerns. U.S. Executive Order 12333 bans the CIA from conspiracy toward assassination; Order 13491 bans torture. To protect the security of the Peace Corps, the intelligence services traditionally abstain from using volunteers as operatives or cover. Let’s add one more constraint : no involvement in childhood vaccination programs.
Read it here.
Washington – Today, Center for Global Development Senior Fellow Charles Kenny and Researcher Dev Patel released a new study that finds that just as social attitudes toward gays and lesbians have changed rapidly in the developed world, these attitudes are also changing in the developing world. The study also suggests that the changes in social attitudes often follow and are caused by changes in government policy toward gays and lesbians.
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The study, “Norms and Reform: Legalizing Homosexuality Improves Attitudes” uses public opinion data on this issue from the Gallup World Poll and the World Values Survey and matches changes in attitudes over time with the timeline of laws concerning same-sex decriminalization. The study also includes data visualizations that show legal trends over time and geography.
Legality of homosexuality across the globe
“Improving rights for gays and lesbians is a critical human rights issue. In some countries, people are still imprisoned and even killed because of their sexual orientation. Even where it is not illegal, gays and lesbians face violence, discrimination, and social stigma,” said Charles Kenny. “But our research makes clear that in the developing world as a whole, both laws and attitudes are changing for the better. And legal change is not only a positive step in itself, it can also help shift attitudes.”
The study finds:
As of May 2017, there were 124 countries without any legal penalties for homosexuality, compared to 72 countries that criminalize same-sex sexual activity.
In the last three decades the proportion of the world that report they do not want to live next to a gay or lesbian individual has dropped by about ten percentage points.
International social norms influenced social norms in developing nations. For example, looking at Eastern European Block nations, eyeing admission into the European Union and the international community, attitudes changed quickly to match the EU consensus on gay and lesbian equality.
When examining differing colonial origins of developing nations, former British colonies lag behind in legalizing homosexuality. 56% of countries where homosexuality is illegal are former British colonies, and 71% of former British colonies criminalize homosexuality.
As law change so do social attitudes and norms. That means that those advocating for policy changes are playing an enormous role – changing not just laws but attitudes as well across the globe.
“A number of developing countries were decades ahead of the United States in legalizing homosexual sex and ensuring gay marriage rights, but they aren’t given much credit,” said Kenny. “While there are still disastrous human-rights violating policies in countries like Zimbabwe and Uganda that demand our attention, they are – thankfully – increasingly the exception.”
You can read the full study here.