Polio eradication efforts strengthened during religious occasions

PATNA, India, July 29 2010 - Polio Advocacy week was held in Patna, Bihar from February 27 – March 4, 2010 during hafta-e-rehmat (The Blessing Week) to overcome resistance towards repeated rounds of polio immunisation and other communication issues surrounding Polio Eradication in the district. Eid Miladul Nabi is a week  ong celebration of the Holy Prophet Mohammad’s Birthdayobserved by Muslims around the world.

In India, the hafta-e-rehmat is marked by a large number of congregations and processions with religious institutions organizing special prayers, sermons and discourses.
Around 40 organisations and religious committees had planned processions to celebrate Rabi-ul-Awwal, the first day of the hafta-e-rehmat in Patna.

One such procession organized by the Anjuman-e- Mohammadia Committee headed by Maulana Syed Sanaullah included Polio Advocacy in its agenda, making strong appeals to the community to participate in the polio programme and pray that this virus be wiped out from the country.

With more than 75,000 people from the urban  areas of Patna in attendance, the advocacy effort enjoyed wide reach in an area of Bihar where resistance persists as a barrier to vaccination. Posters and banners endorsed by Maulana Sanaullah and auto rickshaws decorated with polio banners accompanied the procession through the high risk  areas of Patna.

Nearly two million participants of the various processions across the entire district were exposed to the advocacy efforts during the hafta-e-rehmat, through the use of morethan 100 banners, 6000 posters and 2000 appeals in the form of handbills with polio messages endorsed by religious leaders.

The ownership of community and religious leaders, doctors and religious institutions is critical to the success of the polio eradication programme. The advocacy during hafta-e-rehmat helped in building an enabling environment for regular support to polio immunisation in  the underserved communities of Patna district.

Patna - The biggest communication challenge

Patna district, where community mobilisation and vaccine avoidance are of significant programmatic concern, is one of the biggest communication challenges in the UNICEF polio eradication programme.

Three major reasons identified for families refusing the Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV) are: the mythical belief that OPV leads to impotency, the belief that better civic amenities are more important than OPV as a preventive measure and finally, the belief that OPV is not really necessary.

Data from underserved households in the district shows that remaining  refusal households fell from 991 to 952 from January to March 2010 and the generation of refusal households fell from 1971 to 1929 during the same period.

However, though 14 cases were reported across the district in 2009, no Wild Polio Virus case has been reported from urban Patna in the past three years. There have been no new cases across the district since January 2010.



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