ISLAMABAD: The Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) has validated around a hundred fatwas, also known as religious edicts, in support of polio vaccination, sparking hopes that religion-based resistance against vaccinations will decrease.
According to a CII document available with Dawn, the council’s apex body unanimously decided to ratify fatwas by ulema in support of polio eradication.
The document said that the CII was concerned that Pakistan was facing travel restrictions due to polio cases, and could face further financial problems in the future as such restrictions could be increased.
Babar Bin Atta, the prime minister’s focal person on polio, told Dawn that this was the first time the government tried to seek the CII’s help in controlling the polio virus.
Focal person on polio says council was approached to validate edicts after public questions regarding their authenticity
“Since 2014, refusals against the polio vaccine began increasing on a religious basis due to which the polio programme began getting fatwas from religious scholars, madressahs and even from the Al-Azhar University in Cairo [stating] that the vaccine is not against Islam,” he said, adding that research was also carried out at the National Institute of Health to prove that the vaccine is halal.
“However, the department used to face problems regarding the authenticity of those fatwas. Many people, especially on social media, used to ask what the CII’s stance on those fatwas was. So we approached the CII and asked it to validate the fatwas. The fatwas were given by different sects and institutions. It was strange that no one had ever approached the CII in this matter,” he said.
Mr Atta hoped that this development would help reduce the number of refusals during the upcoming polio vaccination campaign in the low transmission season, which will begin Nov 4.
The poliovirus becomes less active in the winter, making it easier to eradicate. This is why winter is known as the low transmission season.
CII Chairman Dr Qibla Ayaz told Dawn that, based on his information, around 30pc of polio vaccination refusals are made on religious grounds while the remaining 70pc are for political or other reasons.
“Although Shakil Afridi [who helped the United States Central Intelligence Agency find Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad] ran a hepatitis vaccine programme, after that resistance to the polio vaccine increased. Moreover, refusals again increased this year because of propaganda against the vaccine by a school in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa,” he said.
In April this year, during a nationwide polio vaccination campaign, students from a school in Mashokhel were taken to the Hayatabad Medical Complex in Peshawar claiming they had an adverse reaction to the polio vaccine.
The incident was later revealed to have been staged against the vaccination campaign, and all the children were unharmed. Some suspects were arrested, and one even apologised and took the vaccine to show that it was not harmful.
Dr Ayaz said the CII would continue to support the polio programme and would be ready to play its role in reducing refusals.
"Even Nigeria has controlled the poliovirus and now there are only two countries – Pakistan and Afghanistan – in which the poliovirus still exists. I hope that, because of the validation of fatwas by the CII, parents will start vaccinating their children. We are ready to record videos of our members to show that the CII is in favour of polio vaccination," he said.
A total of 72 cases of polio have been reported so far this year; 53 were reported from KP, eight from Sindh, six from Balochistan and five from Punjab.
Polio is a highly infectious disease caused by the poliovirus that mainly affects children under the age of five. It invades the nervous system and can cause paralysis or even death. While there is no cure for polio, vaccination is the most effective way to protect children from the disease.
Each time a child under the age of five is vaccinated, their protection against the virus is increased. Repeated immunisations have protected millions of children from polio, allowing almost all countries in the world to become polio-free.
Published in Dawn, October 15th, 2019