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In Malegaon,convincing the reluctant is still polio challenge

In early 2010,two-and-a-half-year-old Mohammed Qasim Ahmed of Malegaon was detected with the P-1 strain of the polio virus

Written by Anuradha Mascarenhas | Pune |
October 25, 2012 12:35:20 am

In early 2010,two-and-a-half-year-old Mohammed Qasim Ahmed of Malegaon was detected with the P-1 strain of the polio virus. He was among the many Malegaon families who have consistently refused to get their children vaccinated against polio. The refusal stems from a number of myths,such as children being at risk of becoming sterile after taking polio drops,or the vaccination being part of a larger conspiracy by the US against the community that most of these families belong to.

Even today — Wednesday was World Polio Day — an estimated 800-1,000 families in Malegaon,whose population includes six lakh Muslims,are believed to be “refusal families”. The actual number of families who have refused the drops has fluctuated from one vaccination round to the other; on last count,it was 1,115. “Our efforts are under way and an approximate 800-1,000 families are among those categorised as ‘refusal families’,” says Dr Hemant Gadhari,medical officer of health at Malegaon Municipal Corporation.

The campaign to convince such families has involved religious leaders,students and women health workers. There have been visits from door to door,besides special Friday sermons at 250 mosques,where examples are cited of Muslim families who have got their children vaccinated. Maulana Mufti Mohammed Ismail,Malegaon MLA,has activated much of the campaign that includes surveys to understand why the families refuse vaccination for their children. Even a fatwa has been issued that it is important to give the polio dose,he says.

On November 4,a sub-national immunisation round gets under way with a target of 26.86 lakh children aged under five years in the high-risk districts of Maharashtra — Thane,Raigad,Navi Mumbai and Nashik,besides Malegaon.

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The government has held special meetings to convince families to register in the round,says Dr Babita Kamalapurkar,assistant director of health,Maharashtra. Dr Gadhari said the IEC (information education and communication) will include telecasts on Urdu channels and awareness drives by mohalla committees.

India is zero-polio but the risk remains,says Dr Ajay Khera,deputy commissioner,Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. Polio transmission continues in the remaining polio-endemic countries of Pakistan,Afghanistan and Nigeria,two of them close to India. Immunisation is being carried out at five border points — Baramulla and Poonch,Attari and Wagah,and Munabao (in Rajasthan). The two nationwide polio rounds reach children across the country,even in the remotest of places. In addition,six sub-national supplementary rounds are carried out in the high-risk areas.

The Centre has declared polio a public health emergency. The government has an emergency preparedness and response plan in place and,Khera said,is geared to roll out a rapid and intense response to any case of polio virus importation anywhere. Polio partners and key networks — WHO’s National Polio Surveillance Project,UNICEF’s Social Mobilisation Network and Rotary — are helping push routine immunisation. If India remains free of polio virus transmission,WHO’s Southeast Asia region will be declared polio-free in 2014.

According to Lieven Desomer,chief of the polio unit in UNICEF’s India Country Office,“One of the biggest risks to the programme today is complacency. UNICEF’s 6,500-strong social mobilisation network (SMNet),working with the most under-served communities and in the highest risk areas of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar,continue to counsel parents and address associated risk factors such as hygiene,sanitation,nutrition and diarrhea management.”

SMNet’s community mobilisers are carrying out door-to-door counselling,holding community meetings and tracking and counselling dropout families,Desomer said.

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