Anti-Polio Drive Faces Tough Opposition In Swat

The International News (Pakistan), April 27, 2007

Lack of awareness and teachings of certain religious clerics are obstructing the ongoing anti-polio campaign, with parents in different parts of the Swat district showing reluctance to administer anti-polio drops to their children.

The campaign, supported by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the United Nations Children Fund (Unicef) and the government of Pakistan, is faced with serious opposition in some tribal agencies and settled districts of the NWFP, including Swat.

On the last day of the campaign on Thursday, people in Dewlai, Koza Bandai, Bara Bandai, Derai, Qambar, Charbagh and Guli Bagh villages of the district remained indifferent to the heavy funded campaign and refused to administer anti-drops to their children.

“On the first day of the campaign about 2,400 people refused anti-polio vaccine. There are many reasons for this refusal but mainly the religious sermons of certain clerics on FM radio channels are responsible for the increasing number of refusals,” an official of the district health department told this correspondent on condition of anonymity.

About twelve illegal FM channels operate in the Swat valley and almost all of them are used by religious leaders to promote their version of the religion. Female education and anti-polio campaigns are the two main targets of every serson.

Executive District Officer Health Dr Faridon said that total 1,023 health workers had been deputed in the district to cover the population of 1.4 million people. “(A) total of 337,000 children need anti-polio drops. We are trying our best to reach out to the far-flung and uncovered areas,” he added. When asked about the security situation in the district, the EDO health said that so far no unpleasant event has happened. “The police are cooperating with us on the main check posts but generally they have not provided any security to our teams,” he said.

“The people are unaware of the importance of the anti-polio drops. Unfortunately, sometimes they believe in myths and endanger the lives of their children,” he remarked.

However, Deputy Superintendent Police Mingora City Akbar Ali told journalists that the police had left no stone unturned to provide security to the polio teams.

Sher Dil, a local resident, said that the campaign was just waste of resources and it aimed at making their children “infertile”.

“The hospitals have no medicine and short of treatment facilities; if they really care for us they should invest money there. Why don’t they invest in education and health sectors?” He asked.

Referring to the sermon of a religious leader on an FM channel, a district officer said that the religious figure was telling the people that giving anti-polio drops to their children was against Islam. “The cleric says that if someone dies of this disease he is a martyr,” the official maintained.

The quarters concerned have demanded of the government to launch an awareness campaign in this regard and remove people’s misconceptions about the anti-polio vaccine.

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