Attention – Due To Allegations of Plagiarism, This Article Is Highly Suspect


Time Magazine has recently written about the resurgence of polio in India. It’s a good tale of the disastrous consequences of religious fundamentalism combined with mistrust of science: polio was on its way to global eradication in 2001, when clerics in northern Nigeria spread a rumor that the polio vaccine was an American conspiracy to sterilize Muslims. Since the past several years, India has been exporting a dubious product without earning any foreign exchange and losing a lot of goodwill internationally as well. India is among the countries, which have the highest number of polio cases and it is suspected that Indians travelling abroad are spreading the disease. The investigation of strains of the poliovirus and their genetic sequencing, carried out in the African countries of Congo and Mozambique, has revealed that they are of Indian origin. Buren Bayar, the UNICEF Polio Coordinator for Uttar Pradesh, has made this clear. About 280 cases have been reported in the country this year, with Uttar Pradesh leading the list with 254. The state had reported only 29 cases last year and the country itself had just 64. It may be possible that people going for Hajj pilgrimage from the country could have transmitted the poliovirus to people of other countries.

As is the case in India, when things don’t work, the matter gets politicised with elements of truth and rumour floating around and making facts difficult, if not impossible to glean.   Dig through the mountain of data on polio, and you notice that the countries on the list of most affected countries are Nigeria (by far the worst), Yemen, Indonesia, Somalia, India and Pakistan. These are all Islamic countries, with the exception of India. In India, almost all the polio cases have come from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar’s slums, which are again Muslim dominated areas.

There are health-care workers in India who have worked (and still work) incredibly hard over the years fighting polio. Their job is tough and relentless, walking from house to house in slums, banging on doors and begging, pleading, cajoling or scolding parents to inoculate their kids against polio. Often, they feel they are talking to impregnable walls that respond only by hurling abuse, or with stony silence. The minds of too many people (especially Muslims) in these slums have been brainwashed completely, often by religious leaders.

It’s surprising that so many people believe that polio drops are not vaccines, but drops given (especially) to girls to make them sterile and incapable of having children. Other equally powerful rumour that floats around is that these pills make boys impotent, meek, and servile. Other rumours insist that this is a western ploy to destroy Islam. A lot of these rumours come from local religious leaders, who insist that this is a targeted government campaign to wipe out Muslims. Why can’t these people learn from other Muslim countries like Egypt or even the extremely poor Bangladesh, where very promising strides have been taken towards polio eradication?

What do they get out of it? Isn’t it reassuring enough when cimema and cricket stars like Amitabh Bachchan and Mohammad Kaif come on ads urging people to take this vaccine? What will it take to eradicate this disease, when it’s not resources or availability of health-care workers or vaccines that is limiting? And while we ponder these things, the taxpayer’s money will keep draining, as will that of aid agencies like Rotary International and others. So far, the polio eradication campaign has cost $ 4 billion in international assistance and it has been estimated that eradication (including three years of follow-up) could cost another $ 1.2 billion. This is in sharp contrast to our experience with small pox, for which eradication took only 10 years and international expenditure was only $100 million.

Saudi Arabia has decided to demand vaccination certificates from  pilgrims from India who are going to visit the country for Hajj. This will only lead to further embaressment and loss of good will and the economic and political cost of this is probably incalculable.

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