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Afghanistan: Battle Over Polio Vaccine - Medics fight rumours that programme is a Western plot against Muslims

Citation: 
Afghanistan: Battle Over Polio Vaccine - Medics fight rumours that programme is a Western plot against Muslims. 2018. Gul Ahmad Ehsan. Institute for War and Peace Reporting. Available: https://iwpr.net/global-voices/afghanistan-battle-over-polio-vaccine.
Abstract / Summary: 
Health experts in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province warn that persistent rumours that their vaccines actual harm children are hampering efforts to combat polio. Medical professionals report significant resistance from village elders and mullahs, particularly in more remote districts, who claim the injections contain viruses designed by Western governments to deliberately hurt people in the Muslim world.
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Selected extracts: 

Syed Jamal Shah, a UNICEF spokesman in Afghanistan, said, “Negative propaganda like this is being spread by religious scholars and in some cases even local doctors.
“The stories we hear are astonishing. We’ve come across instances where it’s been claimed the vaccine is illegal or that it causes disease and infertility.
“We’ve even heard people suggest the vaccine is actually animal urine and that the programmes are some form of organised conspiracy against Muslims. I don’t know why this is.”...

Today, following extensive worldwide vaccination programmes, polio survives in just three countries - Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan...
Last year, 12 cases of the disease were registered in the country; five were recorded in Kandahar, three in Nangarhar, two in Helmand, and one each in Zabul and Kunduz...

“There are still many families in Helmand who don’t vaccinate their children against polio. Many are suspicious; they believe the vaccination is actually animal urine which can cause infertility and disease.
“Now we understand the value of having a polio vaccine and we’ll make sure every child in our family will be vaccinated in the future.”...
“When this happens - when people are given the wrong information – it’s perhaps understandable that they reject it.”

Shah said that UNICEF was working to educate those in more remote districts about the threat polio posed. He said that they hung banners in villages, held meetings with local elders and placed adverts in newspapers to get across the importance of vaccinations...
Azizi, another polio vaccinator, added, “We’re often abused and shouted at by families. They claim we’re trying to destroy their children’s lives or give them illegal drugs...
Polio vaccinator Ahmad Wali... recalled how he had met four brothers in Lashkar Gah who had 25 children between them. He said each of the brothers had refused to let their children be helped, insisting that the injections contained the urine of foreigners.
He added, “Finally, with the help of a religious scholar, we convinced the family elders that the vaccinations were safe and they agreed to let us go ahead

Author(s): 
Gul Ahmad Ehsan
Year published: 
2018
Month published: 
January