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Muslim leaders join polio eradication effort

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March 10, 2004 16:04 IST

Polio vaccines will not make your children impotent when they grow up.

That is the message Muslim religious leaders will be passing on to the community, where many believe the vaccine impedes sexual development.

The nationwide campaign was kicked off by Islamic scholars and leaders from across the country in New Delhi on Tuesday at Jamia Hamdard University.

The campaign is being actively supported by the UNICEF, WHO and the Jamia Hamdard University.

There has been stiff resistance against polio vaccination by a section of Muslims in western Uttar Pradesh, the region that has reported the highest number of polio cases in the country so far.

Uttar Pradesh reported 1,242 polio cases in 2002 and 88 in 2003, out which 60 were Muslims, says the WHO.

The government and global agencies are investing heavily in the immunization programme called Pulse Polio targeting children below five years of age.

Students, civil society, health workers, voluntary groups and sports and film personalities have been roped in to convince people to give polio drops to the children.

A large section of Muslims -- mainly in rural and semi-urban areas having a large population of illiterates -- believe that polio vaccine has side effects that causes impotency in the children when they grow up.

Last year film actress Shabana Azmi and cricket player Mohammad Kaif -- both from Uttar Pradesh -- had campaigned for the Pulse Polio.

Muslim religious leaders released a joint appeal on Tuesday that will be circulated in the print media asking people to give polio drops to the children on April 4 -- called as the Pulse Polio day. They will also speak on television clearing the doubt from the minds of people on this issue.

Experts believe that the current year is most crucial in polio eradication as last year just 225 cases were reported in India as compared to 1,600 in 2002. It is also crucial because the government has set December 2004 deadline to completely eradicate the virus from the country.

This year only three cases have been found so far, the WHO record says. These were in Buladshahar in Uttar Pradesh, Patna in Bihar and Raichur in Karnataka.

The religious leaders had an interaction with the health officials, UNICEF and WHO representatives before releasing the appeal. The officials convinced the leaders that polio vaccine has no side effects and do not cause impotency.

The officials believe that the campaign of the religious leaders will yield better results, as they have more acceptability among the masses.

The rumour apparently started from a news item published in a local newspaper quoting a doctor that polio vaccine can make children impotent, said Mohammad Akram, project coordinator of Hamdard university's polio campaign. Akram did a survey on this in Uttar Pradesh.

Polio spreads through contaminated water and unclean environment.

Maulana Nizamuddin Islahi of one Islamic seminary in Azamgarh said, "There is so much of sanitation problem in most of the Muslim clusters and villages. People still use open toilets. This is how the disease spreads."

K A Siddique Hassan, president of Jamat-e-Islami's Kerala unit, said, "Though Muslims and Hindus live in the same place why is the disease more prevalent among Muslims? It means there is something wrong somewhere."

Ateeq Nasir of UNICEF said, "We have been doing the door-to-door campaign but it has not been able to make much impact. We have still not been able to convince people. If the religious leaders will talk to them, it will surely make some impact."

These leaders will speak on the subject during Friday prayers and address gatherings in towns and villages. Madrassa students will distribute pamphlets on polio to create awareness.

Abdullah Mughisi of a seminary in Meerut said he was willing to cooperate in all possible ways.

"I am ready to do everything. Even the building of my seminary can be used for this purpose. We will go to the people and organise health camps," said Mughisi.

Sunil Bahl of WHO said Aligarh, Bulandshahar, Ghaziabad and Muzaffarnagar in UP and some districts in Karnataka will be a major challenge in the next rounds of campaign.

He said the maximum misunderstanding on the disease was among Muslims in UP, but majority of infected children in Karnataka were Hindus.

Syed Hamid, chancellor of Hamdard University, said, "Now that the religious leaders have taken initiative, we will be able to eradicate the disease."

Ehtasham Khan in New Delhi