Yesterday, CHUP highlighted an interesting development – that militants in the NWFP were finally allowing a polio vaccination campaign to take place. This is significant given the militants’ resistance to such programs in the past. As a result, vaccination teams were often beaten or kidnapped in this region. Our contributor, Jehan Riar, a medical student originally from Islamabad, delves further into this issue:
Progress towards the eradication of Polio has been halted by clerics in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan. According to the British newspaper, the Guardian, Polio cases in Pakistan have “jumped as clerics declare vaccination an American plot.” The parents of 24,000 children have refused to allow health workers to administer the vaccination in fear that it will make their children infertile, says the BBC. According to the news agency, these fears arise from rumors that America has sent the vaccine as a plot to “sterilize innocent Muslim children,” in an attempt to eradicate Muslims as a whole.
It is disheartening to learn that these rumors have not only been spread by word of mouth and by the radio, which the clerics have had control of since the past year, but also by the loudspeakers of numerous mosques in the area which, are used to otherwise give the call to prayer, the azaan. The obviously fabricated information on the results of the vaccination has created a road block for health aid workers in Pakistan and has also impacted global efforts to eradicate the infectious debilitating disease.
Poliomyelitis is spread from person to person, primarily by the fecal-oral route. Although most cases do not show any symptoms, affected individuals can experience muscle weakness and paralysis, eventually leading to death if left untreated. Pakistan is one of only five other countries where the poliovirus still exists. In August of 2007, Dr. Cherag Hussain told Reuters news agency that the vaccination programme had been suspended because tribesmen had threatened to kill health aid workers.
The influence that clerics have over people in the northern areas of Pakistan is the basic foundation of most, if not all, problems that the country faces due to the infiltration of radical extremists. It seems as though the eradication of Polio not only requires health aid workers and vaccinations, but also an educated public so that rumors such as these don’t lead to refusal of treatment. One can only hope for the sake of Pakistan and the population’s health that people learn to get the facts and make decisions on their own. [Image from the Guardian]
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