Religious propaganda against the anti-polio campaign has inflicted great sadness on Said Islam, whose six-month-old daughter has been tested positive for polio in Mardan.
Islam, father of nine children, took his daughter to Mardan Medical Complex. She had been suffering from severe temperature a week ago. Doctors had administered a treatment but her left leg became paralysed. The doctors suspected that it may be a case of polio, and stool samples were sent to the National Institute of Health, Islamabad to check for the polio virus.
After the samples were examined, a Wild Poliovirus Type-3 was confirmed to have existed by PM Secretariat Spokesman for the Polio Monitoring Cell, Mazhar Nisar.
“A campaign begun in our area and a religious family began telling residents that these vaccinations are not good for your children’s health and are haraam,” Islam told The Express Tribune.
He said after the directives of Ulema, common people started spreading more propaganda against the vaccine saying the drops contained pig meat and caused infertility and impotency.
“The number of people following this family are in thousands,” he explained, “And more than two-thirds of the parents refused to vaccinate their children, despite teams visiting each house personally.” A number of Ulema reportedly visited the family who waged propaganda showing them fatwas that polio is not against Islam but the influential family could not be convinced.
“I am not against the anti-polio drive as I have vaccinated the rest of my children, but this time the environment in our village was completely different,” Islam said, “I really hope the amount of attention my beloved daughter has gotten will help her recuperate.”
The pressure from the clerics creating the propaganda campaign can be gauged from the fact that neither local residents nor officials directly pointed to who was behind it.
Executive District Officer (Health) Mardan Abroz Khan told The Express Tribune that senior officials including the commissioner, DCO, members of National Research and Development Foundation, health officials and other donor organisations met these Ulema a number of times but their efforts to convince them were in vain. “I can’t reveal the names of these Ulema at this time as we have started holding a series of meetings with them, but they were stubborn with their views that the vaccination is illicit,” the EDO said.
The post anti-polio campaign report shows that 2,373 cases of refusals were reported in the district. This and three others cases in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas pushed the number of positive cases in the country to 27.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 7th, 2012.