Jahalat: Polio Vaccination Campaign Facing Threats

Posted on May 4, 2007
Filed Under >Darwaish, Education, Health & Disease, Religion, Society
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Poliomyelitis (polio) is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus. It invades the nervous system, and can cause total paralysis in a matter of hours. There are thousands of Polio patients in Pakistan whose lives have been severely affected by this frustrating disease. Since 1988 when a worldwide campaign against Polio was launched, the number of new Polio cases in Pakistan has also decreased significantly and government has been trying its best to make Pakistan a Polio free country. Both government and NGO sectors are receiving substantial funding from United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) and World Health Organization (WHO)

However, last few anti-polio campaigns are facing stiff resistance from local religious leaders in a number of areas in NWFP and FATA. During anti-polio campaign in February, the parents of 24,000 children in northern Pakistan refused to allow health workers to administer polio vaccinations, mostly due to rumors that the harmless vaccine was an American plot to sterilize innocent Muslim children. Some of the local religious leaders in the Swat, Bajaur and Malakand agencies are telling the people not to get their children vaccinated since the practice is un-Islamic, and that those that die of polio would be considered martyrs. The disinformation – spread by extremist clerics using mosque loudspeakers and illegal radio stations, and by word of mouth – has caused a sharp jump in polio cases in Pakistan and hit global efforts to eradicate the debilitating disease.

There are about 12 illegal FM radio channels in just Swat valley only and almost all of them are used by religious clerics for the propagation of their own interpretation of Islam and religious thoughts. Every sermon includes something on girl’s education and anti-polio campaign. This is Jahalat at its best and some of the local religious leaders in their anti-American sentiment and personal interests have gone so blind that they are putting thousands of innocent children’s future at stake. The lack of awareness among ordinary people is also playing its part. Although most of the mainstream religious leaders have publicly condemned these acts but the government of NWFP seems to be struggling to use an iron hand against these people and their activities. Aid workers and health officials in FATA and NWFP are now carrying with them copies of Fatwa’s signed by Qazi Hussain Ahmad and Moulana Fazal Ur Rehman in favor of vaccination that has reassured many doubters.

The latest campaign against polio vaccination has been launched by local clerics, including Tehreek Nifaz Shariat-e-Muhammadi (TNSM) leader Maulana Fazlullah and his supporters in the Malakand Agency, Bajaur and Swat. They have been “warning” people during sermons in mosques or through illegal FM radio stations not to administer polio drops to their children since it was against religious norms and brought infertility. Maulana Fazlullah is himself suffering from Polio and is also the son-in-law of Maulana Sufi Muhammad, ex-chief of the TNSM. Because of this propaganda and fear of militants like Fazlullah, almost 4,000 children were not vaccinated in Swat only. A journalist Behroz Khan, who met Maulana Fazlullah, writes in KyberWatch:

Wearing a black turban and war fatigues, controversial cleric Maulana Fazlullah met journalists on Tuesday at his under-construction headquarters on the bank of the Swat River. Apart from so many controversies surround the Maulana, including his opposition to girls education, campaign against polio drops, motivating the youth for Jihad, encouraging men to grow beard and favoring closure of music shops, he is at the centre of criticism for illegally occupying hundreds of Kanals of land on the bank of the river, which is collective property (shamilaat) of Maam Derai and Koza Bandai villages (Ah, looks like its all about illegally occupying land in the name of religion. Lal Masjid rings a bell?).

Defending his opposition to girls education, the Maulana said that women should not go outside their homes, so there is no need to send girls to schools in violation of “the strict Islamic rule of Purdah”. “The only permission for a woman to go outside is to see a doctor in case of bad health. There is no need to impart engineering and scientific knowledge to women at all,” he said when asked whether he was in favor of sending girls to schools even in Purdah.

Being himself a victim of polio disease, the Maulana is preaching against administering polio drops to children, saying that there is no room in Shariah to go for treatment when the disease has not affected some one. Furthermore, he said that polio drops are disastrous for women fertility and expedite the process of puberty of girls. “Any one dies of polio is martyr because this is a contagious disease.

Unfortunately, awareness campaigns against this Jahalat have also become a very risky business these days. According to this story by DAWN, this year on Feb 16, Dr. Abdul Ghani Khan along with three other health officials were killed in a remote control bomb explosion when they were coming back from a Polio awareness campaign. The three officials with Dr. Sahab were critically injured in that incident but later died according to this Daily Times report.

Dr. Ghani, a surgeon, was very actively trying to raise awareness against Polio in Bajaur Agency and nearby villages. He was apparently coming back a successful meeting with local clerics. Its really sad that their sacrifice got only one-line news and nobody bothered to ask government to punish the people behind it. According to WHO officials, health workers had been facing serious threats by the locals during the anti-polio campaigns and the authorities were being contacted for provision of security but not much has been done. Recently aid workers in Bannu, near North Waziristan, were sent a letter and a 500 rupee (£4.50) note. “The letter said they had a choice. They could either stop work or buy their own coffin.” I hope that government pays special attention to security arrangements this year and the vaccination campaign goes smoothly.

I had this post planned since February but my laziness always got in the way. But last night when I saw this latest news story in GEO about militants successfully stopping a vaccination campaign in Swat area, I just had to write about it. The harsh reality is that Pakistan has now truly become Masailistaan and even after 60 years, we are still struggling to solve even basic issues. Its so depressing to see the number of issues that can easily be resolved just by spreading awareness and providing basic education to people and yet, we are unable to do even that effectively.

The only hope is people like Dr. Abdul Ghani Khan who are willing to sacrifice their lives so that our future how can we help the artists or others who do a great service for Pakistan but live their life in misery or their families face hardships after they die. I think we can also start by doing something good for the families of these four unsung heroes. They are the people who inspire and motivate thousands of ordinary people to do whatever they can to fight Jahalat in any form. My tribute to Dr. Khan and his three colleagues who gave their lives away for a noble cause. “Jihad against Jihalat” is the real Jihad that we need today and this is what our religious leaders should promote.

Background information about Polio:

According to WHO sources, poliomyelitis is an acute viral infection of the nervous system. Worldwide more than half of infections are in children under five. One in two hundred infections leads to permanent paralysis, usually in the legs. In 5-10% of these cases the victims die when the breathing muscles are paralyzed.

Since the launch of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative in 1988 the number of reported cases worldwide has fallen from 350,000 to 1,968 – a decrease of over 99%. Today it remains endemic in four countries: Nigeria, India, Afghanistan and Pakistan (there are 33,000 polio patients in Pakistan). In 1988 affected countries numbered 125. While there remains no cure for polio the progress towards its eradication is due to widespread use of polio vaccines. By 2002 the WHO had certified 124 countries polio-free.

More than 2 billion children have been immunized against the disease since 1988. The WHO estimates that because of the initiative five million fewer people have been paralyzed by the disease.

64 responses to “Jahalat: Polio Vaccination Campaign Facing Threats”

  1. Irtiza says:

    This whole thread has been very disturbing to me.

    I have a nephew who suffered from Polio as a child and his whole life has been paralyzed because of this. I have seen how this disease has devastated his life and even now as an adult his life is not regular.

    Like typical Pakistanis you have all turned this into your little political debate. You are all heartless people. I read the comments here and no one is worried about kids who might get this. You are only concerned about proving your little points about useless debates on religion or politics.

    Shame on all of you..

  2. jayjay says:

    Adnan & Tina: My point exactly. Christian priests or fundos are not better – or fundos from any religion for that matter. In fact, it won’t be wrong to say that religion (in literal form) is incompatible with science and reason. As Pakistan, the focus of this forum, is a Muslim country by character, when you talk of religion-related concerns it invariably boils down to Muslims and the Islam as practiced by some.

    The difference between Muslims countries and the western countries is that the non-scientific opinions held by priests have little bearing when it comes to hard core national decisions or scientific matters. Not so in Pakistan, no matter how much it is asserted that clerics have no place is Islam.

    A debate goes on in the US on Evolution Vs Creationism, without the fear of anyone’s religious credentials getting challenged. There are many other scientific theories which challenge biblical assertions but religion (read Christianity here) does not feel threatened. What the West has done is to move away from the literalist interpretation of scriptures at accommodate scientific findings within religion. However, they don’t try to stop critical questioning of any subject, scientific, religious, and so on. If a Christian believes in the theory of evolution, which contradicts creationism concept so central to Abrahamic religions, she/he will not be considered a lesser believer. In Pakistan if you only question controversial findings of a priest, Fazullah or bin Baz, not the scriptures, you are seen as condemning the religion. As many rational commentators have already emphasized such nonsensical opinions should be marginalized, rather than promoted as words form gospels.

    If Pakistan has to move forward, we will have to promote a culture where we encourage religious reforms on the basis of rational interpretation of Quran and Hadis. Literalism will condemn us to dark ages.

  3. DR says:

    Thank you Mr. Jabir Khan for providing conclusive evidence that this
    nonsense that the enemies of Islam in Swat are spreading. You are right .

    As the report provided by you clearly points out:

    [quote comment=”46269″]
    Health officials say the problem was eliminated after 1963.

    Now Michele Carbone of Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago has announced results that suggest the Soviet polio vaccine was contaminated after 1963, possibly until the early 1980s.

    As Mr. Jabir Khan has shown, problem was eliminated in 1963, but may have had some contamination still until the early 1980s.

    Where are we now? 2007.

    But then these Jahil enemies of Islam and their supporters on the internet are still living in times many centuries ago, so no wonder that they still feel threatened.

    May Allah save us all from these enemies of Islam and their internet-based supporters. And may Allah never let people like them who want children to be killed by polio to succeed.

  4. Faried Nawaz says:

    So, after reading all the links here, we can safely conclude that there is no evidence linking vaccinations with infertility, and that no one here’s found evidence of a plot or conspiracy to deliberately taint vaccines sent to third-world countries. Jabir’s infowars link doesn’t count because it presents no evidence of a conspiracy, and even if one existed, the primary recipients of the tainted vaccine were North Americans, Europeans, and people in the Soviet Union — hardly the people whitey would want to go after. Reading the entire article shows that even the tainted Soviet vaccine, which found its way into African and select Asian countries, had its tainted virus mostly neutralized (the article says the method was 95% effective). More information about this contamination can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polio_vaccine#Contami nation_concerns
    Whether or not you care about wikipedia articles and their quality, that section links to extensive medical research on other sites. So much for that angle.

    (Of course, whether immunizations are responsible for autism is still an open question.)

    Adnan: ”I check the Expiry date of “Tangâ€

  5. Adnan Siddiqi says:

    Nasir, it seems some of the poster forgot to close the “i” tag in the post.

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