Zeeshan Rasool Khan
POLIO or poliomyelitis is a viral infectious disease caused by poliovirus which mainly affects young children. The disease culminates in rendering the infected person paralysed. It has no cure and can be prevented by immunization only. Due to efforts of major health organizations, the disease has almost been wiped out from the face of the planet Earth. However, when the rest of the world is celebrating triumph over polio, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria continue to make news for not accomplishing this goal. In these three countries, polio is still endemic. The reason for failure in the eradication of Polio is mainly poor health infrastructure, malnutrition, etc but the three countries have many other unfortunate reasons – which for a nuclear country like Pakistan are quite embarrassing. These countries face hurdles in various forms pertaining to the suppression of this disease. However, the main obstructions that have made the big chunk of the population to suffer are misinformation, misconception, credulousness and petty-mindedness of some people.
The misinformation stymies the progress in prevention and cure of this disease. A myriad of myths exists that has clogged activities in this direction. Relating a thing to the religion multiplies the influence of that thing because the religion is attached to the sentiments of a person. Obviously, when some activity would be declared religiously impermissible, it will surely create an impact. Moreover, when people would have become dependent on ‘Mullahs’ who ‘according to Allama Iqbal’ have only one objective to spread anarchy in the name of God, the problem becomes worse. And it is happening in above-mentioned countries. In these countries, people are being intercepted from receiving immunization for polio by promulgating myths that polio vaccine contains pig fat, alcohol (things forbidden in Islam),etc. Another misconception, which has been created, is that the polio vaccine causes sterility. Some clerics have issued fatwas denouncing vaccination as a western gambit to sterilize Muslim population, thus jeopardizing the children.
The rumour about vaccine and infertility actually ran in Nigeria, where political and religious leaders brought immunization campaign to a halt on the suspicion that polio vaccine could be contaminated with sterilizing agents. Although the Committee of Doctors later proved it wrong, yet this rumour became so powerful that people started believing it, not only in Nigeria but also in other countries. Some so-called religious leaders have even issued decrees saying that any person who will become paralysed or die from polio would be given the status of a ‘martyr’ for denying to be duped by ‘western conspiracy’. Notwithstanding, this misconception has many buyers, which has made the treatment next to impossible. Besides, extremists have spread superstition that vaccination is an attempt to upset the divine apple cart; in other words, it is an attempt to preclude will of God – An instance of thoughts of sorts. Unfortunately, this superstition, too, has gained support from different quarters. One more barrier is political instability. In many areas of all the three countries, polio workers are considered as intelligence agents aimed at carrying forward foreign sponsored un-Islamic agenda and so on. They are threatened, targeted, attacked and killed for carrying vaccination campaigns. Hence, many vaccinators lost their life during their services and fell victim to barbarity. Recent killings in Pakistan once again forced the government to suspend the anti-polio campaign and this presents the worst scenario. Creating scare, promoting myths, misconceptions and accepting them as facts, without thinking about repercussions is not sanity. Similarly, seeing everyone through the prism of espionage is not maturity. One of the Pakistani officials rightly said; these conspiracies of thwarting the plan of curbing polio may serve vested interests, but it is dealing a major blow to the country. And a million dollar question that has emerged is how long people would suffer because of ignorance-cum-dogmatism of others?
All and sundry has the role to play. The need of the hour is to create awareness, stop spreading myths and clear the misconceptions. Religious scholars, preachers and intellectuals need to come forward to spread truism with regard to polio vaccination. Media has a very crucial role to play to motivate people to receive the vaccination. Physicians and medical experts have a great responsibility to remove confusion among the masses. Together with other NGOs, doctors need to organize awareness programs, workshops at schools, colleges and universities to inform youngsters about the importance of polio vaccines. Concerned people also need to make efforts to reach out to rural areas to educate the public about poliomyelitis, its causes and necessity of polio vaccine. The government needs to take initiative to fix the trust-deficit. It needs to take community leaders into confidence, familiarise them about the composition, effect and requirement of the vaccine. The government should employ trustworthy people from refusing — communities for polio immunization campaigns. Also, the government must step up security for polio workers and utilise every possible medium to ensure vaccination safely and successfully. Additionally, those who cast doubt upon polio workers and target them should reconsider their strategy, as it is the matter of the nation’s future. These problem-solving steps are relevant to all the three countries as the reasons for failure in controlling the polio are nearly the same. All the institutions and common masses need to join hands to work in coordination to get the dream of the polio-free world realized.
—The writer is freelance columnist.