India, The Emerging (polio stricken?) Tiger

States on alert against polio – NDTV.com – News on States on alert against polio

India appears to be in a grip of a polio outbreak with 352 cases reported so far this year, many of them from areas that were free of the virus, and officials fear the number may increase further. Uttar Pradesh alone has reported 312 cases, the highest of all the states, and World Health Organisation officials have described it as an “exporter” of the disease.

In Uttar Pradesh, officials said 90 percent of the cases were due to ignorance in the minority Muslim community, who believed the polio vaccine could make children impotent.

From wikipedia

Only four countries in the world (Nigeria, India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan) are reported to have endemic polio.

I remember reading about a Nigerian Province issue with Clerics claiming “that vaccines supplied by Western donors were adulterated to reduce fertility and spread AIDS as part of a general war on Islam”, which the Wikipedia Polio article verifies. But we have never seen this in India before, and I find it hard to believe. I will remain sceptical about the Muslim clerical influence on India’s polio debacle unless I hear better. News from India sometimes builds its own “truth momentum”, with speculation and hearsay morphing into bulletproof truth in a matter of hours. It is also easy in India to start rumors to deflect blame.Here’s a contrarian take from a Reuter’s Article

“Tens of thousands of children were missed by state health workers over the past year during rounds of immunization, leading to a resurgence of the virus, they said.

“We are very concerned. It raises the threat to India and is also threatening other countries,” said Jay Wenger, head of the National Polio Surveillance Project, a collaboration between the WHO and the Indian government.

One federal official said around 10 percent of children in several western districts of Uttar Pradesh, known for its ramshackle state health care and sluggish bureaucracy, could have missed immunization between late 2005 and early 2006.

“These (vaccination) rounds were of poor quality,” said the official, who did not want to be named.”

Well, sounds more logical, does it not? But why let the depressing truth of inadequacy get in the way of a juicy and self-perpetuating tale of Muslim backwardness.

India, the emerging tiger.

2 comments for “India, The Emerging (polio stricken?) Tiger

  1. Soumya
    October 5, 2006 at 10:52 am

    Well, actually there is some truth to the assertion that this new outbreak is in the Muslim communities in some villages. One of my friends was on an internship with the United Nations which conducted a study in U.P and West Bengal, trying to figure out the reasons why these communities refused to be immunized. It turned out that since the vaccination method used in India actually has rare but serious, sometimes lethal side effects. The communities vaccinated were not informed of this. One or two children died, and compunded with fear and ignorance, the community started attributing any illness that their children had to the vaccine. They hold on to this idea, and the distrust they feel towards the Indian and U.N public health officials is not exactly alleviated by the fact that they continue to be lied to by these officials. Even on this study my friend went on, she and the other interns were instructed to lie to the community about the fact that they were representing the U.N, because “they don’t trust us; they think we lie to them” !!The fact that they are Muslim communities is correlated to the polio epidemic, but the real cause here is that it is these Muslim communities and villages in the area, who, becuase of long-standing systemic discromination are stuck in a cycle of poverty, illiteracy and poor health.

  2. October 5, 2006 at 4:25 pm

    Soumya:

    Thanks, and that was my larger point, that communities may not immunize not because they’re Muslim, but because they’re severly oppressed, powerless and vulnerable to misinformation. It is ludicrous to assume that any community in India has a monopoly on “backwardness” and “superstition”