The dramatic downslide in the number of polio victims in the minority community in just two years is an example how a sustained focused strategy can win a war against myths and misconceptions.That religious leaders were first won over and employed to eradicate the fear factor among the large section of ill-educated people is a clear case of correct diagnosis of the problem and the appropriate strong medicine to weed out the virus spread by rumour mongers that polio vaccinations were a means to make children impotent or that it was a grand conspiracy against Islam.
Why, in 2006, as per official records, 75 per cent of all polio cases detected in Uttar Pradesh were from among the Muslim community. Today, the percentage has dropped to 33, no mean achievement. Especially when viewed in context of the extreme difficulties faced by health department officials when they visited Muslim localities. If they were not beaten up, the officials would find entire families missing.
Earning the trust of the community and convincing them polio was the real villain and vaccination was its cure was the bigger war that the health officials faced, and eventually won. By sheer grit, determination and imagination.
The idea that won the day was roping in the Ulemas to educate the masses and using their religious authority as well as their acceptability as the main weapon in the fight against mischief makers. Once the people were patiently explained the pros and cons of the situation and the costs their children have to pay for their ignorance that results began flowing in.
The resistance to the polio immunization programmes slowly came down and health officials actually began to operate a bit more freely, and even successfully, as the results show today.