CAIRO - Helping efforts to eradicate polio from around the world, Muslim scholars will be meeting World Health Organization's top officials this week in Cairo to condemn attacks against health workers and reiterate support for campaigns to fight the disease.
"Muslim leaders have been great advocates of immunization and generally the support has always been there," WHO's Assistant Director-General Bruce Aylward told Reuters in Canberra.In Cairo, we are meeting senior Islamic leaders to get a sense of what we can do, and ask them how can you help us.
The planned meeting in Cairo follows a series of attacks on polio workers in several countries.
More than 20 health workers have been killed in attacks by gunmen in Pakistan and Nigeria in the past three months.
Shooting health workers who are protecting kids from this crippling disease is against the Qur'an and everything Islam stands for," Aylward said.
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.
Over the past years, Muslim scholars around the world have joined hands with the WHO to eradicate polio.
In May, some 22 top Muslim scholars from around the world have signed an endorsement of the polio eradication program in Pakistan.
Under the program, those Muslim scholars help persuade the locals to get their children vaccinated.
The Federation of Muslim Women's Associations in Nigeria is also backing the campaign.
Polio cases are at an all-time low worldwide, following its eradication in India last year.
Since 1988, the WHO has cut the number of global polio cases from 350,000 to just 225 in 2012.
WHO officials have reiterated commitment to eradicate polio globally by 2018, despite attacks from militants.
"The goal is to put tools in the hands of the communities to immunize their own kids," Aylward said.
"The overall risks (of contracting polio) are getting smaller, because we are finally getting into some of these difficult places.
When a global eradication campaign was launched in 1988, polio paralyzed more than 350,000 children in 125 countries annually.
Despite huge progress over the past decade, polio outbreaks in China, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo and Niger last year were the latest setbacks to the program.
Four countries - Afghanistan, Chad, Nigeria and Pakistan - have reported 60 cases so far this year, against 153 in 12 countries at this time last year, according to the WHO.
New challenges were also facing the WHO.
A few weeks ago, polio was found in sewers in Cairo in January, with the type linked to the indigenous strain in Pakistan.Egypt has not had a case of polio since 2004.