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Islamic scholars to support polio eradication program in Pakistan

Prominent Islamic scholars from Pakistan, other Muslim countries and the Islamic Fiqh Academy (IIFA) held a two-day meeting at the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) headquarters here last week pledging to support the Polio Eradication Program (PEP) in Pakistan.
The program in Pakistan is facing serious challenges due to misconceptions from some sections of the population, resulting in assaults against polio eradication workers, some of whom were injured and even killed in some parts of the country.
Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, chancellor of Jamia Haqqani Akora Khattak, who is also chairman of the Pakistan Defense Council and president of the JUI in Pakistan, told Arab News that health is one of the main issues facing the Islamic world, but that there are certain bodies that oppose the steps being taken to solve health problems faced by Muslims at large.
The issue has acquired political dimensions and Muslims have become victims of these political maneuvers, adding that it is necessary to explain to the public that polio is a matter of health and humanity.
He said that scholars discussed ways to address the challenges being faced in some of those areas where they have not been able to reach children for polio vaccination. Most of the scholars from these areas have explained that it is not just an issue of access but a refusal by parents to have their children vaccinated against polio.
The deliberations focused on trying to find a way to involve religious scholars in consultation with local communities to solve this issue of refusal so that vaccination campaigns are successful and that it is possible to eradicate polio from Pakistan.
“The scholars will also be involved in polio vaccination campaigns launched by the government in areas where people have been reluctant,” he said.
Polio is an infectious viral disease which leads to paralysis, difficulty in breathing and even death at any age, especially in children under the age of five. Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria are the only remaining polio-endemic countries in the world, requiring concerted efforts to eradicate the disease.
The PEP, supported by an IDB financing of $227 million, in collaboration with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, aims to vaccinate 34 million children under the age of five against polio with the goal of eradicating the disease by 2016 from Pakistan. The first disbursement of $32 million from IDB was made in early August to the World Health Organization (WHO).
IDB Group Chairman Ahmad Mohamed Ali appreciated the scholars’ participation and stressed the fact that the Bank will spare no efforts to help eradicate serious diseases in its member countries. He also said that “the decision to contribute to polio eradication in Pakistan came in line with the resolutions of the 3rd Extraordinary Session of the Islamic Summit Conference in Makkah in December 2005.”
In a joint statement issued at the end of their deliberations, the scholars said they acknowledged that the challenges facing the PEP in Pakistan are complex and have different social, cultural, religious and political dimensions.

“We appreciate the Islamic Development Bank’s endeavors in supporting the program in Pakistan and pledge our complete commitment to ensure its success”, the statement said.

They strongly denounced the killing of polio eradication workers and stressed that the deaths had no justification from Islamic, moral and humanity aspects. They also denounced the use of polio campaigns and other public health programs related activities for any political, intelligence or any other purpose. They put their full weight behind the recommendations of the Cairo and Islamabad meetings on PEP.
The statement called for enhancing the leadership role of health authorities at the district levels in all aspects of the vaccination campaign, as well as emphasizing the importance of the scholars’ involvement in the program implementation activities through regular consultation. It urged the need for candid dialogue among the various stake-holders. It recommended that arrangements be made for eminent scholars from other member countries to visit Pakistan and give sermons and lectures on the topic to enhance awareness of the importance of polio eradication as a prelude to the health of the Muslim world.
It was also recommended that religious leaders in Pakistan underline the importance of polio vaccination in their Friday sermons.
The statement highlighted the envisaged role of the IDB and the IIFA in organizing an international awareness conference to be attended by the scholars from Pakistan, Nigeria, Afghanistan and Somalia, as well as other member countries of the bank.

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