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Vaccinators fight superstition alongside polio

October 18, 2012


RAWALPINDI, Oct 17: A three-day immunisation against polio drive concluded in the city on Wednesday, with a majority of parents convinced of the need and cooperating with the immunisation teams.

But there were pockets in the city where some parents refused the polio vaccination because they had been told that it is a matter of fate.

“Our Maulvi sahib says Islam does not permit polio vaccination. It is bad for the health of our children, especially of the boys,” Adil Khan, a migrant worker from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa living in the Fauji Colony, told Dawn.

“What putting some drops in the mouth of a child can do if he is fated to be stricken by polio,” he asked, echoing the Imam of a mosque in the colony located on I.J. Principal Road, just across the boundary of Islamabad.

Many residents of the colony had refused to listen to the local health department’s pep talk before the launch of the vaccination campaign and turned away the immunisation teams that arrived later.

A cleric of the colony had more sway over its residents, mostly hailing from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

Mufti Bashir, the Sunni Deobandi cleric of the Masjid-i-Yasin, had reportedly issued a religious edict against the immunisation programme.

Polio vaccinators turned back by the community reported their dilemma to District Coordination Officer Saqib Zafar and Executive District Health Officer Dr Zafar Iqbal Gondal on Tuesday.

The news of the edict and a high rate of refusal in Union Council No. 8 distressed the city district government.

DCO Saqib Zafar told Dawn that he sought help of local legislators and requested MNA Malik Shakil Awan and MPA Ziaullah Shah to visit the area and persuade the Mufti to cooperate.

They met the Mufti late Tuesday night and succeeded in convincing him of the importance of anti-polio vaccination for children below five years of age.

“In our talks the cleric said he had issued the edict three years ago and agreed to reverse it back and ask the people to go for the vaccination for better health,” said MNA Malik Shakil Awan, adding that he also went door-to-door urging the residents the same.

Mufti Bashir, when contacted, confirmed meeting the two public representatives but denied ever issuing any edict against immunisation.

“If anybody has proof that I did, let him come out with it,” he said, throwing a challenge.

A female vaccinator who knocked at a house next to Yasin Masjid on Wednesday morning was brushed aside by the family inside.

“You see this is response. We will try again tomorrow,” she said as this reporter watched her disappointment.

It turned out that DCO Saqib Zafar has extended the vaccination campaign in the locality by another day. “If the vaccinators meet any resistance, the administration will take action,” he said.

A visit to the Fauji Colony and talking to the residents on Wednesday revealed that many of the residents suffered from superstition that polio immunisation drops would impair the health of their children. They sounded more concerned about the male children.

Waqar Satti, a vaccinator who was turned back from the Fauji Colony, experienced the same.

“Some families refused the polio vaccine point blank for religious reasons, citing the edict. Others wanted their house marked as covered, without us administering the polio drops to their child,” he said.

Resident Haji Lal Gul however had not heard of the edict.