Following are excerpts from a TV report on polio in Pakistan, which aired on Al-Jazeera TV on March 14, 2012.
Reporter: This girl is one of the victims of polio in Pakistan. For more than a decade, vaccination teams were forbidden from entering various regions, especially tribal areas, because some believe that the vaccination serum is non-Islamic, and leads to infertility in the long run. Today, however, things have changed somewhat.
Muhammad Habib, Head of the Committee of the Ulema of North Waziristan: Some people said the vaccinations are harmful, but this is wrong. These people rely on myths rather than on logic. Every disease has a treatment. The ulema and the doctors have refuted the claims made against the vaccinations.
Reporter: The struggle to catch up with the rest of the world in fighting polio is ongoing. 60% of all cases of polio recorded in the world last year were in Pakistan. 198 cases were recorded in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
Vaccination centers have been set up in city hospitals and clinics, and vaccination teams were dispatched to rural areas. This is no easy task, considering Pakistan’s vastness, and the prevalence of poverty and ignorance.
Wasim Khawaja, specialist in preventive medicine: There should be organized campaigns for raising health awareness. Health awareness is essential so that people are not deceived. Unfortunately, some health teams are unable to reach remote areas, due to terrorism and due to people’s objections.
Reporter : Polio has become a thing of the past in most countries of the world, but it is still widespread in Pakistan. The Pakistani government is striving to eliminate it, despite the obstacles and the lack of means.
The scandal of the US using vaccination to obtain DNA from Bin Laden’s children to confirm his presence in the house where he was assassinated last May dealt a blow to the efforts to eradicate tuberculosis. In addition, it reinforced the position of those who claim that political goals and anti-Pakistani conspiracies are behind the vaccination campaigns.
That last part can’t be right. We couldn’t have used DNA to determine his presence; we might have used it to confirm his death.
Anyway, long-time readers will remember my… frustration a few years ago when a Muslim tribal leader in Nigeria forbade polio vaccines along similar “non-Islamic” grounds. International health authorities eventually persuaded him to allow the vaccinations, but not before the disease had established a toe-hold that spread across Africa and Muslim countries. And bin Laden was alive and in the pink (figuratively speaking) when that episode occurred, so don’t even start with the American complicity angle. Their paranoia, their problem.
It would be one thing if only Muslim tribal elders were susceptible to polio, but alas that’s not the case. For all we know, they got their vaccines when they were Muslim tribal youngers.