Imam calls for polio to be used as a platform to address other diseases

PATNA, Bihar 25 Novermber 2009 – Staying in the densely populated Sabzi Bahg locality of Patna city, Imam Alam Qasmi, the Imam (faith based leader) of Masjid Daryapur is aware of the important role religious leaders need to play in promoting key messages on polio vaccination and routine immunization.

Qasmi has been at the forefront of the fight against polio for the past seventeen years, ever since he moved to Patna city from Madhubani district.

“I have used my personal experiences and other information to communicate the significance of polio eradication to people in my area” says Qasmi.

Qasmi is personally involved in mobilizing people against the disease and is committed to polio eradication in the state of Bihar. His tight schedule includes listening to people’s problems, juggling the administrative paperwork of the Masjid and advocating for polio vaccination.

“By bringing home to people what living with polio means, I want to emphasize the fact that polio is not a thing of the past. Children today are still being crippled. The idea is to make people understand the long-term impact of the disease both on the children and their families. This is the only way we will finally get rid of the virus in Bihar,” he adds.

Fight against polio has to be fought on several fronts

Imam Qasmi firmly believes that the fight against polio has to be waged on several fronts if the battle is to be won.

“Merely going after polio itself is not enough. We have to attack the disease on several fronts, that is, ensure education and literacy to bring about greater awareness about the disease, bring about behavioural change on issues like hygiene and ensure that people have access to sanitation facilities and clean drinking water”.

“We have to also augment the routine Immunization Programme, strengthen access to health services, and work towards eradication of other diseases like TB, measles, hepatitis and chickenpox, amongst others.  Only then will the polio virus be seriously under attack.”
The Imam also feels that the polio model of mobilizing the public against the disease is tested and proven and it can work as an ideal model to tackle other equally deadly diseases.

“Since teams of polio vaccinators regularly go around every month even to remote areas like the Kosi region, to persuade families to accept the vaccine, they can also carry medicines/ information that will help the common man fight the scourge of other diseases.”

Qasmi’s hard work is bearing fruits

In 2007, Imam Qasmi went on a Haj to Mecca and the experience changed him forever.

“In Mecca, I asked Allah to rid mankind of diseases that plague us. But I know that whatever Allah does, he does it through His people. That is why I have now become even more passionate about eradicating polio.

The harder I work (against polio) the stronger is my faith in Allah,” he says. However, merely becoming a Haji was not enough for Imam Qasmi. He became a Haj trainer, and has since oriented more than 300 Hajis on polio prevention and vaccination.

He is proud that his team’s work has resulted in declining number of refusals and that not a single case of polio has been reported from the Rajendra Nagar area. From almost one-fourth of the locality refusing the polio vaccine three years ago, the numbers have steadily declined.

The underserved strategy in Bihar has always explores various ways of engaging Muslim religious leaders and opinion makers, professionals and influential figures to support the communication and mobilization processes for polio eradication.

The strategy is to actively engage with the Hajis was started in 2007 and vows to reach out to every area of the state by engaging to support community level mobilisation in the underserved populations.

UNICEF supports Qasmi in eliminating the disease

UNICEF supported the process of engaging Hajis through dialogue and financial assistance. Training of trainers of Hajis at the state level and training of Hajis at district level was carried out with financial support from UNICEF.

UNICEF also provided technical support in facilitation of the training process at state and district level. Around 5386 pilgrims going for Haj in 2008 were vaccinated with OPV in their respective districts, as is the mandatory practice now.

UNICEF and other partner agencies coordinated this process at the district level. “It is essential that everyone educates themselves about polio. Read available literature but do not accept the opinion that nothing can be done to improve your condition. There is usually something that can be done,” says Imam Qasmi with determination.



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