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Shaukat was 4 when he started feeling fatigued; pain in his limbs. His head was aching, fever running down his spine. Even with his health deteriorating by the minute, his parents delayed taking him to a doctor- like most of us do. When they finally chose to do so, it was indeed too late. Shaukat had polio and was crippled for life. At the age of 25, little regret remained with him for the decision he couldn’t possibly have taken. We can blame Shaukat’s parents’ illiteracy for the loss of his limbs, however, it is all too true that the literate and illiterate alike associate skepticism over the existence and effectiveness of polio vaccines. “It (polio vaccine) is a weapon of ‘subtle’ Muslim population destruction”, some proclaim.
I had a chance to meet a Maulana Sahib on the train once, on my way back home. The Maulana Sahib was convinced that the west is scared of the growing population of Muslims and that the polio vaccines are a western conspiracy to render Muslim men infertile, thereby checking the Muslim population and by product Muslim might. Most of the people gathered around us, out of curiosity, nodded in agreement; completely taken in by the sensationalized ranting of the cleric.
Surprisingly, anti-vaccine theories aren’t very rare in the west either. According to a study, 2% of Americans are against immunizing vaccines. These people call themselves as ‘anti-vaccers’ and some of their theories, like vaccines are for population control, are very relatable to us Pakistanis, amongst other polio vaccine side effects they focus on.
There are websites which propagate anti-vaccine theories. The content of these websites points towards the nexus between pharmaceutical companies and health care providers mostly. Some of their theories seem to have more weight than credibility and are reflected as conspiracy theories tagging vaccines to be an ulterior effort by the government to extract the DNA of our children for god knows what purposes. Aliens perhaps?
The politics and economics of immunization do leave a lot of people in confusion but immunization itself has gained enough traction for it to benefit humanity. However, in our part of the world, where most are ‘anti-vaccers’, the polio problem is approaching critical mass. A lady health worker in Noshehra was warned to not administer polio drops as it was haram and an American conspiracy. On refusing she was gang raped by four men in her own house. In another incident a polio center in Quetta was blown up by militants which took the lives of 17 people including 2 health workers and 12 police personnel.
There have been positive developments too. Due to the fearless work of our health workers we have had only 49 cases of polio reported this year which is very low in comparison to the 282 cases reported last year. Even more positive is that some Maulanas have seen the light and are joining hands with our health workers in their Jihad for a polio free Pakistan.
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