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. 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.

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.

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