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Sermons and polio with Qazi Saheb in Bijnor

© UNICEF/ 2008
Qazi Saheb immunizes a child on the “booth day” in Bijnor district of Uttar Pradesh.

Sugata Roy

Bijnor, Uttar Pradesh: Be it a blistering hot or a freezing cold day, it is not uncommon for 80 year old Qazi Mohammed Tahar Ali, the Shahar Qazi of Bijnor, to be immersed in his mission to get the community to immunize their children against polio. Being a public figure, he dispenses advice to people on a variety of subjects ranging from religion to health. Polio is high on his priority.

For ‘Qazi Saheb’ his old age and fragile health are hardly deterrents. “How can I sit and relax when children are getting crippled due to sheer ignorance of their parents?” ‘Qazi Saheb’ has been helping the Social Mobilization Network (SMNet) since 2004. With awareness of polio low, the district administration and the SMNet requested Qazi Saheb to join the drive. “In 2004 there were over 200 ‘resistant’ families in the district headquarters of Bijnor,” said the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) of Bijnor, Dr. Babu Ram Rathi. Now there are no resistant households.

Qazi Saheb and his core team members used the strategy ‘horses for courses’ using the right strategy for a specific group — parents, community and religious leaders. They discussed the importance of children’s health in the context of Islam with the community and religious leaders while parents were educated on the vulnerability of children, the route of poliovirus transmission and the efficacy of the vaccine.

It wasn’t smooth sailing for even Qazi Tahar Ali, leave alone the community mobilization coordinators (CMCs) who went about making people aware of the benefits of immunization. He was rebuked and doors were slammed in his face. “They called me ‘hukumat ka agent’ (an agent of the establishment) but I did not budge as it was a challenge for me to enlighten my ignorant community,” said Qazi Saheb, fired with his mission. “With the help of the Social Mobilization Network (SMNet), I formed a core group consisting of alims and hakeems (teachers and doctors) to reach out to families at group congregations and at the household level.

Dais (midwives) were approached to reach the women of the resistant households.  “Qazi Saheb and his team took the help of the local mosques to communicate key information to the community after the Friday prayers and organized the imams’ meets to build trust and confidence in the polio eradication programme. Along with the CMCs they visited individual households to dispel myths and misconceptions,” said Daya Shankar Singh, Sub-Regional Coordinator of the Moradabad sub-region. 

“We were initially against the programme but after Qazi Saheb told us about the vaccine, we are now convinced that the programme is for the welfare of our children. Now whenever there is a polio campaign, we ensure that our children and those children in the neighbourhood do not miss polio drops,” said one from a family that had resisted polio vaccine a couple of years ago.

“Qazi Saheb has been instrumental in converting these resistance families to accept polio vaccine. He urged people to consider polio programme as their own programme for the welfare of their children. Today we have no resistance from families in the urban areas of Bijnor,” said CMO Dr. Rathi.

Though there are no more “resistant” families in Bijnor, for Qazi Saheb it is not the end of his mission. He knows that polio is not yet eradicated and continues to work towards its eradication. As a result he is present at every District Task Force meeting, imams’ meetings and at booths on polio Sundays. He hops from one booth to another mobilizing families and influencers. During the house-to-house activity he visits families with the house to house polio team members if any families express their apprehension.

During his meeting with the community leaders and local influencers Qazi Saheb keeps on stressing: “We are at a crucial juncture. Victory is within our sight and we cannot let this opportunity slip out of our hands.” Inspired by his example, Bijnor works hard to keep polio outside its borders with not a single case this year.

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