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“May Allah bless us … and may polio be eradicated from the world…”

© UNICEF/ 2008
Haj pilgrims offering prayers at the meeting

Aditya Malaviya

Bihar, October 2008: “May Allah bless us and our children with good health…...and may polio and other dreadful diseases be eradicated from the world. We will pray at Makkah Mukarramah for this”, said Hazrat Syed Shah Shamim Munawi, Sazada-Nashin-Khan-Ka-Munamiya of Patna city. The urgency to eradicate polio is increasingly becoming a commonly-expressed priority of the Haj pilgrims, a reflection of the growing realization in Bihar that the fight against polio is not the responsibility of the government alone but of all citizens.

The pilgrims reiterated their commitment to fight against polio during an orientation held at Haj Bhawan in Patna on October 11-12, 2008 as part of the larger religious training prior to going on Haj, about the general do’s and don’t’s of the pilgrimage. Even more importantly, with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia making it mandatory in 2005 for every Haj Pilgrim to have a OPV (Oral Polio vaccine) certificate before applying for a Haj visa, it is important that each pilgrim understands the significance of the advisory which necessitates getting a certificate from the Civil Surgeon, Chief Medical Officer (CMO) or District Immunization Officer (DIO) of their districts after receiving the vaccine.

The rate of refusal of households in Bihar has come down from 2945 households in January to 1640 households in September 2008 (Source: UNICEF Polio Unit Monitoring data). Muslim religious leaders are not only advocating support for polio vaccination but have played a critical role in ensuring that a clear message on the safety and religious acceptability of the vaccine is disseminated to everyone in the community.

That the process has acceptance can be gauged from the fact that the rate of refusal of households in Bihar has come down from 2945 households in January to 1640 households in September 2008 (Source: UNICEF Polio Unit Monitoring data). Muslim religious leaders are not only advocating support for polio vaccination but have played a critical role in ensuring that a clear message on the safety and religious acceptability of the vaccine is disseminated to everyone in the community.
 
This year, 5429 Haji’s from Bihar are travelling on Haj (out of the annual quota of 10,000 for Bihar and 110,000 for India). The pilgrims have decided not only to pray at Mecca for eradication of polio but after returning from there, to help in disseminating positive messages within the community for acceptance of the vaccine.

UNICEF has supported the process throughout, from training-of-trainers at state and district level to partnering with Minority Welfare Department and following up with Hajis on their return home.

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