Malegaon, about 270 km from Mumbai and the second largest city in Nashik District, Maharashtra, was considered the epicentre of polio-virus five years ago due to its dogged resistance to polio immunisation. Out of four-lakh-odd families, including six lakh Muslim families, at least 1,000 Muslim households refused polio drops for their children and this number fluctuated with each immunisation round. The prejudice stemmed from rumours that the drops would make their children impotent.
The breakthrough came with Rotary establishing the Ulema Committee for Polio Eradication in Malegaon in 2010, following the success of a similar committee formed in Uttar Pradesh in 2007, to overcome the community’s resistance to polio drops. This was the time when more than 80 per cent of India’s polio cases where found in the Muslim community. Through this new working relationship, the Ulemas (Muslim religious leaders) were involved in clearing misconceptions about polio vaccines in families through door to door campaigns, and Friday sermons at mosques. Even a Fatwa was issued encouraging people to give polio immunisation to their children to protect them from the crippling disease. “We never dreamt that this initiative would be such a big success,” said Rotary Foundation India (RFI) Chair Ashok Mahajan, who also heads the Committee.
This Committee has gone a long way in breaking the resistance against the vaccine and helped India get the coveted ‘Polio-free’ certification from WHO.
This Committee has gone a long way in breaking the resistance against the vaccine and helped India get the coveted ‘Polio-free’ certification from WHO, and was felicitated by four Rotary clubs of Malegaon. It was attended by Mahajan, NCM Rajeev Pradhan, DG Shantharam Deshmukh, other Rotarians and general public. Mayor of Malegaon Haji Ibrahim, the chief guest, requested the Rotarians to erect hoardings across the city announcing the NID dates to remind people to bring their children to the booths without fail.
“We will continue our efforts to keep India polio-free,” said one of the 40 Muslim clerics, who attended the event, and thanked Rotary for its unrelenting engagement with the community. “Given the real and imminent danger of re-infection, we cannot slacken our vigil and we have to give all it takes to realise the promise we have made to the children of the world,” said Mahajan.