India’s polio rates have soared and most new cases are Muslims.
This picture is part of a set documenting the campaign to rid the world of polio, taken by my favourite photographer, Sebastiao Salgado. India is one of the six countries deemed ‘at risk’, along with Pakistan, Somalia, the DR of Congo, Nigeria and Sudan.
Poliomyelitis is an entirely preventable viral disease, which can cripple or kill those worst affected. Worldwide eradication attempts have been ongoing for decades now and the WHO have met with a great deal of success. From an estimated 350,000 global cases in 1988, 2005 saw only 1,998 cases. However, the majority of these were in India and Nigeria. Campaigns like the Pulse Polio programme have been immensely effective in educating and protecting the public.
In a country the size of India, the scale of the immunisation is superbly admirable, with the Indian government vaccinating millions of children in a short space of time. Things were looking up.
Yet this week has seen the news that 23 children have already died from polio this year, with 297 cases already reported. Last year only 66 cases were recorded nationwide. 270 of the new cases are in the frequently backward Uttar Pradesh – and about 70% are Muslim.
Health workers report that the cause is a rumour circulating that the vaccine is in fact a Western form of birth control designed to curtail the proliferation of Muslims. Similar beliefs were cited in Nigeria recently, with members of the public claiming that vaccines were poison from the West. None of this is dissimilar to Thabo Mbeke’s declaration of foreign medication as useless ‘Western hegemony’ and the BJP’s rejection of traditional medicine, whilst making a huge investment in cow urine.
Conspiracy theory or not, emergency talks are underway to try to steady the Indian eradication programme, which threatens to derail the entire global goal of wiping out this terrible disease.
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Filed in: Current affairs,Science,South Asia