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U.S. Plans to Give Detainees Vaccinations in Gitmo Prison

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QUITO, Ecuador — A U.S. military mission is expected to offer this month to give detainees at Guantánamo Bay the first government-provided vaccines in more than four years.

The announcement came a day after six European Union countries released a statement pledging their commitment to ending the use of force-feeding of detainees at the military prison in Cuba.

U.S. officials have concluded that only two of the about 94 prisoners still at Guantánamo, Asim Qasim and Ali Hamza Ahmad Sulayman al Bahlul, are candidates for vaccination because of their extraordinary risk of contracting a contagious and potentially deadly tropical disease, according to an Army request.

The vaccination program could be in force by the end of the month, officials said.

But officials cautioned that none of the prisoners had been immunized because of cost or logistical hurdles, including outdated lists of prisoners and the inability to deploy medical personnel.

The program is expected to cost about $45,000 a month.

Officials at Guantánamo were unaware of the planned vaccination program and said there had been no plans to begin such a program.

Amnesty International USA also condemned the planned vaccination, saying that even before it was announced, the Guantánamo medical unit had concluded that its vaccines were insufficient.

“We are very, very concerned about the delay in offering this service,” said Adele Carpenter, a medical advocacy specialist at Amnesty.

“Even before the plan to offer immunizations was announced, we reported that the medical unit was unable to vaccinate almost all of the population,” Carpenter said.

She said the clinic had only about 900 days worth of vaccines left, and that the new vaccinations would “leave far too little vaccine to treat others.”

Existing vaccination programs are overwhelmingly focused on hepatitis and pneumonia, which are endemic to the region, Carpenter said.

The vaccination effort, requested by the Pentagon in February, also involves new nutritional and behavior programs to help prisoners improve their social and emotional wellbeing.

The new approach is part of the policy review led by Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., that emphasizes treating detainees as people in need rather than “enemy combatants.”

But officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the operational process, said in recent months that some Afghans under investigation for suspected links to the Taliban or other militant organizations had shown more resistance to the program.

The military has successfully administered about 600 million doses of rabies, tetanus and measles vaccines to detainees since the 1980s. The last period of vaccination at Guantánamo Bay, in 2011, involved immunizations of inmates ranging from teenage teenagers to baby-boomers.

Earlier this month, an American doctor, Mary-Elizabeth Franks, who lives and works on the detention camp, told a congressional hearing that more training was needed for health care workers.

“I think one of the issues is a lack of understanding of how to treat detainees,” Franks said. “We had an Army physician here who explained how to treat an amputated arm, and that’s it. There was no more.”

Franks said that some inmates at Guantánamo Bay reported being the victims of underappreciation of their health because of incorrect medical histories.

The announcement comes as the Obama administration debates whether to continue force-feeding hunger strikers at Guantánamo Bay.

The U.S. is prohibited from force-feeding detainees who are non-compliant. Many detainees at Guantánamo Bay have been shackled or faced other forms of mistreatment as they are force-fed. The practice has sparked international outrage.

On Wednesday, the Associated Press reported that a judge in Washington, D.C., had ended her order to stop force-feeding hunger strikers at Guantánamo Bay, although she had not formally ended the lawsuit that required the food-dispensing policy.

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