Religious Leaders Support Polio Vaccine in Yemen

…but conspiracy theories remain an obstacle in Pakistan

From the Yemen Observer, a few days ago:

The Yemeni government began on Saturday a nation-wide campaign to vaccinate more than 4 million children against polio.

…The anti-polio campaign came after the spread of the virus in Nigeria, India, Chad, Somalia and Sudan, said Yemen’s deputy minister of public health and population, Majed al-Junaid.

…[A] UNICEF official commended the enthusiastic support extended by religious leaders, Imams and community leaders for their previous support of the door-to-door campaign, and urged them to add their voice and influence for making this new round successful.

The virus spread because in Nigeria certain religious and political leaders chose to promote the rumour that the vaccine was a plot to sterilise Muslims, or to cause AIDS and cancer. It was one of the first stories I covered on this blog, and I followed carefully the malign and bizarre efforts of Kano governor Ibrahim Shekarau to block the vaccine, in cahoots with a fear-mongering Islamist academic named Hussain Abdulkareem. Eventually an alternative batch was imported from Indonesia, which doubtless profited certain persons unknown, but this was too little too late, and the virus was soon aftewards seen in sixteen countries, most likely carried by pilgrims via Saudi Arabia. Thankfully religious leaders in Yemen appear to be acting with more responsibility. Darra Adam Khel called for the killing of NGO workers on the grounds that they were “agents of the Jews and the West”. Soon afterwards, a Pakistani health worker named Abdul Ghani Khan, who had particular responsibility for polio vaccines, was murdered. That was in February of this year; I haven’t been able to find out if any arrests have been made. The continuing problem is addressed in today’s Pakistan-based International News:

The Nigeria hysteria spread to Pakistan, where an Islamist cleric named

Pakistan is one of four nations where polio is yet to be stamped out — the others are India, Afghanistan and Nigeria. Recent reports however suggest that after years of strenuous and determined effort, often in the face of violent opposition, Pakistan is close to being polio-free for the first time.

…Despite the potential for Pakistan to be polio-free in the near future, obstacles remain; perhaps the largest of these being the belief propagated by some religious leaders that the polio vaccine is a part of some dastardly western plot to limit the fertility of Muslim populations. They do their followers, and their followers’ children born and unborn, a grave disservice by so poisoning their minds — as well as doing nothing for Pakistan’s international image.

There have also been problems in India.

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