Islamic body concerned about polio cases in Pakistan, Afghanistan

Updated September 07, 2019

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Islamic Advisory Group for Polio Eradication  called upon all parents to immunise their children against polio. — AFP/File
Islamic Advisory Group for Polio Eradication called upon all parents to immunise their children against polio. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: The Islamic Advisory Group (IAG) for Polio Eradication, at its meeting in Cairo, has expressed concern over the persistence of poliovirus circulation in pockets of missed children in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In a statement issued at the end of the meeting, the IAG says: “The persistence of polio cases in the two countries raises our concern for the children of those countries who have the right to be protected from this crippling disease just like other children around the world.”

The group called upon all parents to immunise their children against polio and other vaccine-preventable diseases for the health of their community as guided by the teachings of Islam.

The meeting reaffirmed its commitment to global polio eradication efforts and reiterated its trust in the safety and effectiveness of the polio vaccine as a preventative and life-saving tool that protects children.

A senior official of the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB), Mohammad Al-Austa, announced during the meeting that the bank had endorsed a new $100 million fund to support the polio programme in Pakistan, bringing the financial support provided by the bank and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to $427 million.

The IAG is an Islamic consortium that was established in 2013 between Al Azhar Al Sharif, the International Islamic Fiqh Academy (IIFA), the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and IsDB, along with other religious scholars and technical experts.

The meeting was hosted by Dr Ahmed El-Tayyeb, Grand Imam of Al Azhar Al Sharif, and co-chaired by Sheikh Dr Saleh Bin Abdullah Bin Humaid, President of the IIFA. Both reiterated the group’s ongoing support to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative and discussed progress and challenges faced by polio-endemic and at-risk countries in 2019.

Secretary General of the Islamic Research Institute, Dr Nazeer Mohamed Ayyad, said that polio eradication was one of the critical health issues on which the future of communities and countries was based. “Its importance is attributed to the fact that it shows the deep relationship between religion and science. Religious scholars realised early on the link between Shariah teachings and medicine, as both aim to serve humanity, fight disease and enhance the well-being of all people. Taking care of children, protecting them and enhancing their potential are among the main purposes of Islamic Shariah,” he said.

OIC Secretary General Dr Yousef Al-Othaimeen praised the efforts of governments to address the continuing emergence of polio cases in endemic countries.

“Despite the achievements registered by the IAG, it is saddening to note that the refusal of parents to allow their children to receive the polio vaccine is still reported in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. I wish to commend the Pakistan government for launching an emergency polio vaccination campaign to tackle polio resurgence. I also note with appreciation the efforts of the government to eradicate polio.”

Grand Mufti of Egypt Dr Shawky Allam emphasised the importance of solidarity among Islamic partners for the benefit of humanity.

“This IAG meeting, the harmony and cooperation between Islamic institutions prove that we are moving in the right direction to remove the obstacles that hinder the development of the Islamic nation; enabling it to be an active nation that contributes to human civilisation in a peaceful, civilised and positive way in the interest of all human beings, regardless of gender, race or religion,” he said.

Delivering a message from Dr Ahmed Al-Mandhari, WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean, Dr Rana Hajjeh, Director of Programme Manage­ment, said: “We stand at a historically critical juncture. Only for the second time, humankind is poised to completely eradicate a disease off the face of the Earth after smallpox.”

“In the past, around 1,000 children worldwide were infected by polio every day. Yet, with the development of a safe vaccine that can be used to immunise every child, we have succeeded in bringing a 99.9 per cent decline in the number of polio cases, resulting in more than 18 million people walking today who would have otherwise been paralysed by polio,” she said.

Published in Dawn, September 7th, 2019