Zeeshan Rasool Khan
Polio or poliomyelitis is a viral infectious disease caused by poliovirus, which mainly affects young children. The disease culminates in rendering the infected person paralyzed. It has no cure and can be prevented by immunization only. Due to efforts of major health organizations, the disease has almost been wiped out from the face of the planet – Earth. However, when the rest of the world is celebrating triumph over polio, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria continue to make news for not accomplishing this goal. In these three countries, polio is still endemic. The reason for failure in the eradication of Polio is mainly poor health infrastructure, malnutrition and so on but the three countries have many other unfortunate reasons. These countries face hurdles in various forms pertaining to the suppression of this disease .However, the main obstructions that have made the big chunk of the population to suffer are misinformation, misconceptions, credulousness ,and petty-mindedness of some people.
The misinformation stymies the progress in prevention and cure of this disease. A myriad of myths exist that has clogged activities in this direction. Relating a thing to the religion multiplies the influence of that thing because the religion is attached to the sentiments of a person. Obviously, when some activity would be declared religiously impermissible, it will surely create an impact. Moreover, when people would have become dependent on ‘Mullahs’ who according to Allama Iqbal have only one objective to spread anarchy in the name of God, the problem becomes worse. And it is happening in above-mentioned countries. In these countries ,people are being intercepted from receiving immunization for polio by promulgating myths that polio vaccine contains pig fat, alcohol (things forbidden in Islam) and so on Another misconception, which has been created, is that the polio vaccine causes sterility. Some clerics have issued fatwas denouncing vaccination as a western gambit to sterilize Muslim population, thus jeopardizing the children. The rumor about vaccine and infertility actually ran in Nigeria, where political and religious leaders brought immunization campaign to a halt on the suspicion that polio vaccine could be contaminated with sterilizing agents. Although the committee of doctors later proved it wrong, yet this rumor became so powerful that people began believing it, not only in Nigeria but also in other countries. Some so-called religious leaders have even issued decrees saying that any person who will become paralyzed or die from polio would be given the status of a ‘martyr’ for denying to be duped by ‘western conspiracy’.
Notwithstanding, this misconception has many buyers, which has made the treatment next to impossible. Besides, some have spread the superstition that vaccination is an attempt to upset the divine apple cart; in other words, it is an attempt to preclude the will of God. Unfortunately, this superstition, too, has gained support from different quarters.
One more barrier is political instability. In many areas of all the three countries, polio workers are considered as intelligence agents aimed at carrying forward foreign sponsored un-Islamic agenda and so on. They are threatened, targeted, attacked and killed for carrying vaccination campaigns. Hence, many vaccinators lost their lives during their services and fell victim to barbarity.
Creating scare, promoting myths, misconceptions and accepting them as facts, without thinking about repercussions is not sanity. Similarly, seeing everyone through the prism of espionage is not maturity. The million dollar question that has emerged is: how long people would suffer because of ignorance-cum-dogmatism of others?
All and sundry have a role to play. The need of the hour is to create awareness, stop spreading myths and clear the misconceptions. Religious scholars, preachers, and intellectuals need to come forward to spread truism with regard to polio vaccination. Media has a very crucial role to play to motivate people to receive the vaccination. Physicians and medical experts have a great responsibility to remove confusions among masses. Together doctors need to organize awareness programs, workshop at schools, colleges, and universities to inform youngsters about the importance of polio vaccines.
The concerned people also need to make efforts to reach out to rural areas to educate the public about poliomyelitis, its causes, and necessity of polio vaccine. Those who cast doubt upon polio workers and target them should reconsider their strategy, as it is the matter of a nation’s future. These problem-solving steps are relevant to all the three countries as the reasons for failure in controlling the polio are nearly the same. All the institutions and common masses need to join hands to work in coordination to get the dream of the polio-free world realized.
—The author writes about diverse issues and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org