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Efforts to focus on countering religion-based polio vaccination refusals

Efforts to focus on countering religion-based polio vaccination refusals

ISLAMABAD: The Islamic Advisory Group (IAG) for Polio Eradication has decided to intensity its efforts after 50pc of refusals during polio vaccination campaigns across the country were reported to be religion-based.

It was also suggested that the Imam-i-Kaaba be invited during the polio campaign, to minimise refusals and ensure the eradication of the poliovirus by the end of 2016. A meeting of the IAG in Saudi Arabia led by Imam-i-Kaaba Dr Mohammad Saleh discussed why the poliovirus persists in two Islamic countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The IAG was formed in 2013, following consultations between the International Islamic Fiqh Academy (IIFA), Al Azhar Al Sharif University, the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). The leaders of these organisations, as well as other religious scholars, technical experts and academics from Islamic countries also participated in the meeting.

The head of the National Emergency Operation Centre (NEOC) Dr Rana Mohammad Safdar, who attended the meeting, told Dawn that also refusals have dropped from 1pc to 0.05pc over the last three years, around 20,000 refusals are still reported during every vaccination campaign.

We have introduced a standard operating procedure (SOP) that in case of refusal, team members don’t force the house’s residents to administer the vaccine but politely ask for the reason for refusal. This practice gives us data on what the reasons for refusals are,” he said.

“It was observed that the component of religion-based refusals is around 50pc. A significant number of people believe the polio vaccination is not allowed in Islam, and others think that there are haram particles in the vaccine.”

“We have 787 religious support persons in our polio team. They visit the homes of those who consider the vaccine to be against Islam and try to convince them that vaccination is in the best interest of their children and community,” Dr Safdar said.

He added that there was a consensus at the meeting that the IAG needed to intensity its efforts to eradicate the poliovirus in Afghanistan and Pakistan. “The Imam-i-Kaaba has been asked to visit Pakistan during the polio campaign, within the next few months, to make people aware that the vaccine is not haram,” he said.

During the meeting, Dr Abbas Shouman of the Al Azhar University said such misperceptions typically arise due to fatwas issued by non-specialists, which resulted in exposing children to disabilities or death.

The regional director at the World Health Organisation’s Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean, Dr Ala Awan said he had seen the IAG’s positive role during a visit to Pakistan in June.

IDB President Dr Ahmad Mohamed Ali said he hoped Pakistan would become a polio-free country by the end of 2018. The IDB has provided an additional $100 million in funding to support the Pakistani government’s, and its partners’, efforts to eradicate the poliovirus.

Pakistan has pledged to eradicate the virus by the end of 2016, and if polio cases are not reported for another three years after that, Pakistan will be declared a polio-free country.

Published in Dawn, August 3rd, 2016

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