ISLAMABAD - Facing public resistance to an anti-polio campaign, the Pakistani government is seeking a fatwa (religious edict) from the imam of Ka`aba in Saudi Arabia to convince tribesmen in the northern tribal belt to vaccinate their children.
People in these areas are considering anti-polio campaign an American campaign, Begum Shahnaz Wazir Ali, Prime Minister's Special Assistant for anti-polio campaign, told OnIslam.net.
People think that the anti-polio workers are CIA spies and are looking for Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders and hide out under the guise of anti-polio campaign, which is a totally wrong impression.
That's why we have decided to request the Imam-e-Kaba'h to issue a fatwa in favor of anti-polio campaign, said Wazir, who is also the head of parliament's children's rights committee.
The government and NGOs have launched a campaign to vaccinate residents in the northern tribal belt on borders with Afghanistan.
But the effort has been met with resistance from residents, who suspect that the campaigners are only agents seeking to hunt down Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants.
The public resistance to the campaign has prompted the World Health Organization (WHO) to warn that Pakistanis should be banned from travelling abroad until being vaccinated.
We hope that after issuance of fatwa by Imam of Ka'aba, the situation in tribal areas and parts of KP and Balochistran provinces will improve, said Wazir, a veteran parliamentarian.
Polio, a disease which once affected millions of children around the world, attacks the central nervous system, often causing paralysis, muscular atrophy and deformity. It is usually contracted through exposure to contaminated water.
Between 5 percent and 10 percent of those infected die when their breathing muscles become paralyzed.
Pakistan is one of only three countries in the world where polio remains endemic and makes annual outbreaks.
Twenty two new polio cases, of which 50 percent are from the country's northern tribal belt, have been reported in the last ten months in Pakistan.
Some 173 polio cases were reported in Pakistan in 2011, of which 69 were reported from Pakistan's tribal areas on border with Afghanistan.
Many tribesmen believe that the anti-polio campaign is a western conspiracy to sterilize the Muslim children in order to contain the Muslim population in future.
This is totally nonsense and height of illiteracy, Maulana Ghulam Akbar, a Karachi-based religious scholar, told OnIslam.net.
The anti-polio campaign in Pakistan received a major setback when various Taliban groups imposed ban on polio vaccination in North and South Waziristan in protest against drone attacks.
Militants also attacked a senior WHO official in the southern port city of Karachi a few months ago, forcing foreign anti-polio workers to halt their operations and leave the country.
Those who are opposing anti-polio campaign, either in the name of drone attacks or because of such ridiculous stereotypes, are actually playing with the lives of Muslim children, Ghulam said.
Ban on anti-polio vaccination is as lethal as drone attacks are.
Authorities fear that the ban imposed by militant groups may affect over 163,000 children below 5 years in the region.
According to WHO, the poliomyelitis (polio) vaccine protects against polio virus infections.
The vaccine helps the body produce antibodies which prevent an individual from contracting polio.
This is not for the first time the Pakistani government seeks the help of religious scholars vis-Ã -vis anti-polio campaign.
In 2007, the government had obtained a fatwa from leaders of two mainstream religious parties - Jammat-e-Islami and Jamiat Ulema Islam (JUI) - which anti-polio workers say it worked out.The anti-polio vaccinators had to keep copies of the fatwa to woo the tribesmen to get their children below five years vaccinated.