Polio in Islamic countries is said to be, in the article below, a cultural problem rather than one stemming from Islam. We are left puzzled by the distinction: at what point is Islam separate from culture in Islamic countries? One might argue that if the imam says it's OK to take a vaccine to combat polio and the natives refuse on other ground, then yes, there is a cultural rejection of vaccines rather than a religious rejection. But is that what we read below? We think not. We think what we read is a dhimmi idiot pandering to Islam, a cover-up, if you will, that tries to explain away the influence of Islam on primitive people. Look at the nations suffering now from polio, and see if they are Islamic or not. See who else suffers from polio because the natives will not allow the vaccine. Ask why so people won't allow its use and for what reasons. And ask: "If the polio spreads, who is responsible for it, and what is there to be done about those who will not allow its halt?"
Polio gains power amid pockets of Muslim distrust
Cultural bias, and not religious proscription, is to blame for a resurgence of polio in Muslim countries.
By Kevin Ferguson
(November 14, 2005)
Cultural bias, rather than religious proscription, is more to blame for a resurgence of polio cases in Muslim countries where the disease had been all but vanquished, according to international health workers.
This year, for first time ever, the number of afflicted children in reinfected countries, 718, is higher than that of endemic countries, 426, according to the World Health Organization and UNICEF. ...
Polio is spreading most rapidly in Nigeria and Indonesia, and new cases have cropped up in Yemen, Sudan, Ethiopia, Angola, Mali, Cameroon, Chad and Eritrea. All told, the number of polio cases worldwide has dropped drastically, from 350,000 in 1988 to 483 in 2001. But last year the figure rose to more than 700.
Rumors have been circulating in Indonesia that polio vaccinations are contrary to Islamic dietary law and are a plot by Christians to secretly sterilize Muslim women and introduce the HIV virus. Similar rumors precipitated a 2003 Nigerian outbreak, when Muslim leaders in the country's northern Kano state forbade inoculations for 10 months. The declaration was later rescinded, though the polio virus has since spread across Africa and to Asia.
"Religion is not an issue at the moment," said John Budd, UNICEF's Indonesia communications officer. In West Java, for example, only one child in 500 studied this year was found to have refused polio vaccination because of fears that the shots were haram, or forbidden, by Islamic dietary laws. "In fact, I went to one village where health workers told me that children weren't being immunized due to religion. On discussing it with the local imam, we discovered, on the contrary, he was totally supportive of the campaign. It was the issue of [medical] safety."
While religious beliefs have played a relatively small role in preventing vaccinations, approval by religious leaders is considered essential for polio eradication. In Indonesia, which in March saw its first case of polio in 10 years, international health organizations have been working closely with religious leaders and have received strong support for the campaigns and for the vaccine, according to Budd. "Essentially, [the vaccine] is safe and has been declared halal [or acceptable] by Islamic leaders in Indonesia and all over the world," including the Grand Sheikh Tantawi of Egypt's Al-Azhar University in Cairo, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia and the Indonesian Ulemas Council, he said. "Furthermore, it is haram not to allow vaccination, as this would expose children to dangers of the disease."
Despite such declarations, the notion that polio vaccinations are, indeed, haram surfaces from time to time because the manufacturing process often includes the laboratory cultivation of polio virus from the cell lines of African green monkeys. As such, Muslim leaders offer contradictory or ambiguous advice.
"It's not always as simple as whether or not pork is involved," said Sheikh Suheil Laher, the Muslim chaplain of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass. "There are animals that can be eaten and those that cannot. Those that can must usually be slaughtered in a certain way." Canine-toothed animals are considered not to be halal, according to many scholars, said Laher, and that makes the omnivorous African green monkey haram. However, there are also concessions or dispensations in Islamic law for medical necessity.
Laher, a Zimbabwean of Indian origin, was inoculated as a child and has no reservations about polio vaccinations. "But in northern Nigeria, where it's mostly Muslim, I can understand that there would be mistrust amongst some people."
Dr. Rehana Kausar, an anesthesiologist and newly appointed president of the Islamic Medical Association of North America in Lombard, Ill., is pointed in her assessment: "To say that you cannot take a polio vaccination has nothing to do with Islam." The Kashmiri physician said she saw no evidence of religious-based objections to polio vaccinations during a medical relief mission to Banda Aceh, Indonesia, in late March.
Rather, residents of small villages and their leaders simply distrust the motivations of foreign aid workers and are uncertain that the vaccinations are medically safe. "This is then multiplied by confusion among health workers about whether they should give sick babies the vaccine," said UNICEF's Budd. Distrust is also bred by the very nature of vaccines, said Nathaniel Raymond, communications advisor for humanitarian response for Boston-based Oxfam America. "People are suspicious of vaccines because they don't see results immediately. If this is the first time, you're introducing an abstraction to them," he said. ...
Such reservations have worldwide impact. Many of the current outbreaks have their genetic roots in Nigeria, where polio vaccinations were suspended for 10 months. From Nigeria, one strain has spread successively to Chad, Sudan, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and eventually to Indonesia, according to Oliver Rosenbauer, communications officer for UNICEF's Geneva bureau. "I think there is a distrust of health services in these countries," said Rosenbauer. Residents see foreign health workers come regularly to administer polio vaccinations while millions succumb to measles, tuberculosis, malaria and AIDS. They don't understand that there are no vaccinations for malaria and HIV, and that measles and TB shots are more difficult to administer than the oral polo vaccine, he said. "I would begin to get suspicious, as well," Rosenbauer said.
Such distrust is inevitable, said Aminah Beverly McCloud, director of DePaul University's Islamic World Studies Program. "If people know our history, they will understand why there is mistrust," she said. McCloud cited the use of Trovan, an experimental oral meningitis vaccination manufactured by Pfizer and used in clinical trials in Nigeria in 1996 in which – said local residents at the time – 11 children died. Eventually, 15,000 Nigerians died of meningitis during the epidemic. In August, a federal judge in Manhattan dismissed a class-action suit against Pfizer by Nigerian families who claim the drug maker put their children in dangerous drug trials without proper consent. The dismissal bounces the case back to Nigerian courts.
"Religion does play a huge role," said Rosenbauer. "A lot of times the religious leaders are often the community leaders. As a partnership we work with religious and community leaders to try to become advocates for polio eradication."
Meanwhile, the Nigerian polio strain continues to wend its way around the globe. Since March, the strain has paralyzed 225 children in Indonesia. In response, 24 million Indonesian children were immunized in late August as part of the country's largest-ever mass immunization campaign, according to the WHO. More than 750,000 vaccinators, health workers and volunteers went house to house across Indonesia to reach children under the age of five years. Initially restricted to two provinces on the Banten and West Java provinces on Java island, the outbreak is geographically expanding, having recently infected the country's capital, Jakarta, as well as Sumatra and Central Java, said the WHO.
Kevin Ferguson is a freelance writer based in Arlington, Mass. His work regularly appears in BusinessWeek and numerous computer-industry journals.
So there we are. The dhimmi idiots contradict themselves, apologize for Islamic obscurantism, fall over themselves to blame modern medicine via a case no one is likely to have heard about, and claim it's nothing to do with Islam that polio is spreading across the Islamic world. What do we do? We shake our heads and wonder how people can be so completely dishonest and still make a living outside the confines of the mafia.