The number of polio cases reported in the first 8 months of this year was 283 compared to 66 for 2005 with most from
Uttar Pradesh and 69% of the victims being Muslims even as UN Secretary General warned that India is inadvertently exporting the virus.
Community and health care workers say that a insidious propaganda is being spread maligning the name of the Monovalent Oral Polio Vaccine as a fertility reducing drug and thereby infusing fear among the Muslims who faced the brunt of the forced female sterilization during the Emergency times in later 70s. With large numbers of Muslims in Uttar Pradesh continuing to be illiterate and ignorant of the disease, their children continue to be vulnerable to the virus. United Nations agencies have been trying to co-opt preachers and maulvis to sensitize the Muslim population on the frailty of this propaganda and to remove fear. Reports indicate that these measures have failed because Muslims fear that this vaccine is part of a Western plot that makes them infertile to reduce the Muslim population.
Faced with a lack of success, health officials and workers have started skirting Muslim localities because they feel that this is a waste of time and their time could be better spent with those willing to be helped. As a result, even one infestation in a state like UP which has a high population density, poor sanitation, high birthrates, and large presence of Enteroviruses conducive to high vaccine failure, will facilitate the survival of the polio virus.
National Polio Surveillance Project acknowledges the skepticism among Muslims and says that they have created several awareness workshops to convince skeptical families and special workshops for healthcare workers to develop inter-personal skills. But such targeted programs have only made these families more suspicious. Other experts say that the best way to deal with the situation is to reduce the number of polio camps from 9 to 2 a year and reduce the hype around it.
In a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan wrote that India has slipped badly from the verge of being a “polio free” nation to one that exports the virus to “ Bangladesh , Namibia , and Democratic Republic of Congo.” He said the lack of successful implementation in UP “threatens global eradication efforts as a polio virus of Indian origin has been identified” in these nations. Health Ministry accept that the virus has spread from India and include Nepal , Angola , and Lebanon in this list.