Friday, February 16, 2007

"Infidel Vaccine": Polio vaccination controversy in Pakistan

Some clerics in conservative northern Pakistan have declared polio vaccine to be "infidel vaccine" aimed at sterilizing Muslims (see "Polio Cases Jump in Pakistan"):
The parents of 24,000 children in northern Pakistan refused to allow health workers to administer polio vaccinations last month, mostly due to rumours that the harmless vaccine was an American plot to sterilise innocent Muslim children.

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.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recorded 39 cases of polio in Pakistan in 2006, up from 28 in 2005. The disease is concentrated in North-West Frontier Province, where 60% of the refusals were attributed to "religious reasons".
This follows a similar controversy in Nigeria in 2004 and in India last year. Just this past January, a leading Muslim doctor was urging British Muslims not vaccinate their children as most vaccines contain some "haram" substances. The good thing is that these fanatics are still in very small numbers, and mainstream religious leaders have no problem with vaccinations. Indeed, some counter-fatwas by top clerics in Pakistan has improved the situation somewhat (lets hope there are no serious counter-counter-fatwas):
The North-West Frontier Province government made strenuous efforts to counter talk of an "infidel vaccine". Health workers fanning across the province last month were equipped with copies of a fatwa, or religious order, endorsing the vaccinations and signed by Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Qazi Hussain Ahmed, the leaders of Pakistan's most powerful religious parties.

The move reassured many doubters. More than 5.7 million children were vaccinated in January, with another 3 million targeted in a second round due to start next Tuesday.


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