Muslim clerics join hands for polio eradication in Uttar Pradesh

By Richa Sharma, IANS,

Meerut : From sending greeting cards to issuing printed appeals and making announcements from the mosque loudspeaker – Muslim clerics in western Uttar Pradesh are doing everything, and with much success, to motivate their community to get children immunised against polio.

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Their cajoling has had a good effect – as from 1,700 houses in the city resisting giving their kids polio drops in 2006, the number has come down to 126 last year.

Ahead of the National Immunisation Day (NID) on Jan 23, the head cleric ‘shahr qazi’ of Meerut and Muzaffarnagar district issued over 50,000 personalised written appeals to the community to bring their children below the age of five to polio booths for vaccination.

During the Eid last year, the head cleric of Meerut distributed greeting cards carrying messages like ‘Good health is the key to true happiness’ appealing to people to get their children vaccinated against all diseases.

Before every polio Sunday – the vaccination day – all the mosques in the city after regular prayers make announcements asking people to get their children vaccinated as it is for the betterment of their family.

At many places booths are inaugurated by head clerics and hajis – people who have made a trip to Mecca, the holiest pilgrimage for Muslims.

“We make people from the community converse with hajis where they tell them that it is compulsory for those going to Mecca – Indians and Pakistanis – to take polio vaccination. This has an influence on them,” Meerut shahr qazi Zainus Sajidin told IANS.

According to Sajidin, the situation has changed a lot in the city compared to a few years back when people used to resist saying the vaccine will make their children impotent.

“We decided to organise polio booths in our houses and used to first vaccinate children from our families to set an example before the society. People have now realised that vaccination is for their benefit but still some people do resist,” said Muzaffarnagar shahr qazi Zaheer Alam.

Some people also used to resist vaccination to bargain for basic amenities like clean drinking water, sanitation, construction of road, electricity or demand ration or voter identity cards.

“We visit the houses of people resisting the vaccine and tell them do they think we will support something which will be harmful for our own people. You need to do counseling to make the people understand the importance of polio drops,” said G.M. Mustafa, district president, Jamait Ulema Hind.

Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are two polio-endemic states in the country. Polio is a crippling disease that affects children under five.

India along with Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria are four polio-endemic countries in the world.

The authorities face more resistance to polio drops from women than men.

“Generally it is the women who resist more so you have to tackle them in a different
manner. We go to villages with our community mobilisation coordinators – most of who are women — and hold meetings with them,” said Syed Zulfikar, district underserved coordinator, social mobilisation network (SMNet), Unicef.

There are two types of polio virus – P1 and P 3 – prevalent in India. The transmission of most dangerous P1, which caused 95 percent of polio in India till 2006, was at record low level in 2010. Uttar Pradesh, the most endemic state and the epicenter of most polio outbreaks in the country, has not reported any P1 since November 2009.

India has reported a drop of 94 per cent in polio cases with only 42 cases being reporter in 2010 as compared to 741 in 2009.

From 26 cases of polio in 2009, Meerut district recorded none last year.

The rate of infection in Uttar Pradesh has come down from 602 cases in 2009 to 10 cases last year.

(Richa Sharma can be contacted at [email protected])