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How the opposition to the polio vaccine by Islamic fundamentalists undermined the world’s effort to curb the deadly disease

Muslims are known to have an extremely negative attitude towards all forms of vaccination, not just the polio vaccine, as they believe it will affect their fertility.

The manner in which religious bigotry assists the spreading of deadly epidemics has been amply evidenced by the conduct of the Tablighi Jamaat in the wake of the Wuhan Coronavirus pandemic. At every step of the way, Muslim bigots have undermined the Indian state’s efforts to curb the spread of the pandemic. It’s not just the health and safety of India that Islamic fundamentalists have jeopardized. Iran, Pakistan and really, the entire South Asian region has been threatened by the conduct of the Islamic fundamentalists. However, it is not just the Chinese Virus that has received a boost due to their conduct. Over the years, even immunization to polio through the polio vaccine has been undermined due to the rabid opposition of Islamic fundamentalists to it.

In January 2020, it was reported that nearly 5 lakh children in Kerala have missed out on getting Pulse Polio drops as parents were not ready to take the children to the centres in Muslim-majority areas of Malappuram district. Malappuram in Kerala has one of the highest concentration of Muslim population and according to Census data nearly 70% of residents of the district are Muslims. The same month, a senior Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) worker and an Anganwadi worker was brutally thrashed by a Muslim family in Irukkuzi in Kollam district of Kerala after being mistaken as CAA-NRC officials. The victim was with a group of other ASHA workers to administer polio vaccine in the statewide drive held on January 19.

As early as in 2006, Time Magazine noted in a report, “This year, however, things have gone horribly wrong with India’s polio elimination campaign; 325 cases have been reported already, and at least 23 of them have been fatal. What’s caught people’s attention is that 70% of those infected with polio this year are Muslim, even though Muslims account for only 13% of India’s population. What’s even stranger, and frightening, is the reason: some Muslims believe that the polio drops are part of a conspiracy to sterilize their children, and are refusing to let them be vaccinated.”

The resistance is driven by suspicion that the vaccines will affect the fertility of the Muslim population. Apart from India, in Nigeria as well, the polio vaccine has faced quite a stiff resistance from the Muslims in the country. Ultimately, Muslim clerics had to be roped in to assist the administration’s efforts to curb the deadly disease. It has had some sort of positive impact in reducing the spread of polio.

A study published in 2009 noted that, “Religious opposition by Muslim fundamentalists is a major factor in the failure of immunization programs against polio in Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan.” The study observed that the “religious conflict in the tribal areas of Pakistan is one of the biggest hindrances to effective polio vaccination.” It stated, “Epidemiologists have detected transmission of wild poliovirus from polio-endemic districts in Afghanistan, most of which are located in the southern region of this country bordering Pakistan, to tribal areas of Pakistan (4). This transmission has resulted in new cases of polio in previously polio-free districts.” The study also said that the local Taliban had issued fatwas declaring vaccination to be an American ploy to sterilize Muslims.

Vaccination officials have also been assassinated or kidnapped or thrashed. The study said, “Vaccination campaigns in Nigeria and Afghanistan have also been hampered by Islamic extremists, especially in the Nigerian province of Kano in 2003, which has resulted in the infection returning to 8 previously polio-free countries in Africa”. The study called for further investigation into the Muslim attitudes toward vaccination.

Another article in The Journal of pharmacy technology in May 2014 discussed the manner in which Islamic fundamentalism has undermined the campaign against polio through the polio vaccine. The article said, “In spite of infertility issue, some Islamic scholars, medical associations and extremists have the arguments that polio vaccine is made from monkey kidney cells, pork, fecal matter and live polio virus which are haram at all for Muslims.”

The article also said, “In 2009 and then 2010, only four countries in the world, viz., Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan remain polioendemic due to disagreement with vaccination by some Muslim orthodox communities. The tenacious polio transmission in northern India, northern Nigeria and the border line between Pakistan and Afghanistan appears in peril for polio eradication initiatives.”

Muslims are known to have an extremely negative attitude towards all forms of vaccination, not just the polio vaccine, as they believe it will affect their fertility. In rural Pakistan, Muslim locals have even killed and tortured health workers trying to administer vaccines to children against deadly diseases. Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria are the only nations in the world where polio has still not been eradicated. In Indonesia, Muslim clerics had even issued a ‘Vaccine Fatwa’, claiming that the Measles-Rubella vaccine carries products derived from pig’s body, hence they are ‘haram’.

In India, there have been instances when the vaccines are also dubbed as ‘RSS Vaccine’, alleging it is an RSS conspiracy to make Muslim children impotent. The dangerous phenomenon of Muslim communities objecting to vaccinations was also seen in the state of Uttar Pradesh in 2018 when many madrassas across the state of Uttar Pradesh had denied permission to health department officials to enter their campuses to administer Measles-Rubella vaccines to students after falling for rumours claiming vaccination could expose children to deadly and contagious diseases and also could make children impotent.


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OpIndia Staff
Staff reporter at OpIndia

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