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Religious scholars engaged in polio vaccination campaign

September 13, 2017

ISLAMABAD: The government has decided to step up engagements with religious scholars as part of the polio vaccination campaign, after finding that half of polio victims come from religiously conservative families.

Just before the polio vaccination campaigns began, some elements also became active on social media, claiming that the polio vaccine is un-Islamic and injurious to health.

On Tuesday, a meeting of the National Islamic Advisory Group (NIAG) was held at the National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC) seeking support from religious scholars for the eradication of polio.

Four polio cases have been reported across the country this year, of which two were reported from core reservoirs. One case was of a seven-month-old from Gulshan-i-Iqbal, Karachi, and the other was of an 18-month-old in Killa Abdullah, Balochistan.

Anti-vaccination messages emerged on social media prior to start of nationwide campaign on Sept 18, NEOC head says

“The case of Karachi was reported in an Afghan family that shifted to Pakistan after the Tora Bora operation. The baby’s grandfather was strictly against the polio vaccine and he used to close the door during campaigns. However, one dose was given to the baby in August when the grandfather was gone for Haj,” NEOC head Dr Rana Safdar told Dawn.

“The case of Killa Abdullah was of [a similar] nature, as we learnt that a few weeks before the poliovirus attacked the child, a team went to the area and administered the inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) to a neighbouring child, but the mother of the polio-affected child said there was no child in the house,” he added.

If administered IPV, a child becomes totally immune to the poliovirus.

There are less than 0.1pc refusals in Pakistan, but that percentage equates to a large number – around 42,000, Dr Safdar said.

“We decided to involve religious scholars before the start of the nationwide polio campaign starting on Sept 18. We just need a last push to eradicate the virus, because the virus has already stopped replicating and it is on the verge of eradication.”

Dr Safdar added that just before the impending polio vaccination campaign, some elements began a social media campaign declaring the polio vaccine to be un-Islamic.

It was therefore decided to call a meeting of the NIAG, which was established in 2013 when there were many misconceptions about the vaccine.

“The group played a vital role in educating the people, not only increasing awareness among the masses but also reducing the number of polio cases from 306 in 2014 to just four this year,” he said.

He said: “During the meeting we informed scholars that it was the child’s right to get vaccinated, and they should advise people that it is a parents’ religious obligation to vaccinate their children.”

According to a statement issued by the Ministry of National Health Services, NIAG Chair Maulana Hanif Jalandhri said during the meeting that vaccinating children against polio is in accordance with Sharia and teachings, and concerned a religious obligation as an effective means to protect children’s health and save their lives.

“I am always keen that my own grandchildren would not miss their polio drops every time the vaccination teams knock on my door. Our support to the campaign will continue until Pakistan is polio-free and all our children are safe from polio,” he said.

Former federal minister Maulana Hanif Tayyab said it was the duty of religious community leaders to ensure that parents vaccinate children under the age of five, especially those who have not been vaccinated before or have been missed in a vaccination campaign.

Published in Dawn, September 13th, 2017