Pakistan Government Has “Failed to Overcome” Anti-Polio Vaccine Propaganda

Almost a year after the murder of Pakistani health official Abdul Ghani Khan at the hands of Islamists opposed to polio vaccination, things still look bleak in parts of the country; the Daily Times reports on the situation in Swat and Waziristan:

Flanked by the officials of the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) and the Expanded Programme of Immunisation (EPI), the NWFP [North West Frontier Province] health minister said the government was facing a challenge in fighting propaganda clerics were spreading against the campaign through their illegal FM radio stations.

The minister said the government had failed to overcome the propaganda that the polio vaccine weakens the reproductive system of males and expedites the maturity process of females.

“Last year, polio cases across NWFP increased because of people’s refusal to polio vaccine,” he said, adding that the government was now getting help from religious scholars by getting fatwas (decrees) issued in the favour of polio vaccine.

…He said that in Pakistan and Nigeria, clerics were misinforming people about the polio vaccine. He cited it as the reason for the continued polio presence in these countries.

The polio drive in the region has now been suspended due to the military situation.

The FM radio campaign against the vaccine is led by Maulana Fazlullah, whom I blogged last year. A recent article by Shaheen Buneri at Media Line provides further details in a profile of the pro-Taliban movement in the area.

Islamist opposition to polio vaccination was one of the first subjects I dealt with on this blog, and I noted how the hysteria originated with Governor Shekarau of Kano in Nigeria and an Islamist academic named Hussain Abdulkareem. Here are the entries:

Shekarau Snubs Vaccine Advice (Governor of Kano rejects scientific findings)

Vaccine Madness: AIDS! Infertility! Cancer! Paralysis! (Hussain Abdulkareem)

Shekarau’s Legacy (Spread of polio from Nigeria to sixteen countries)

Nigerian Islamists Responsible for Hundreds of Polio Cases (The toll by Jan 2006)

Muslim Doctors Battle New Attacks on Polio Vaccine (Infertility rumour in India)

Pakistan Health Official Murdered: Anti-Polio Vaccine Islamists to Blame? (Anti-vaccine hysteria in Pakistan)

Religious Leaders Support Polio Vaccine in Yemen (contrast with Nigeria and Pakistan)