The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Aligarh wakes up to combat polio

Lucknow, June 2: “I wish they had started it earlier,” says Tarannum as she looks balefully at her daughter Zabunnisa. The doctors at Lucknow’s Post Graduate Institute for Medical Sciences have told her there is no hope for her daughter who is suffering from polio.

“I couldn’t believe when they told me she was struck by polio because I didn’t take her to the polio camp,” 50-year-old Tarannum says. Her daughter clings to her desperately, her mouth an unmoving curve, her legs lifeless.

Tarannum, who hails from Aligarh, realises she had made an irrevocable mistake. She had heard in her Muslim-dominated neighbourhood that the polio vaccine would make her daughter sterile and had believed it. Though her daughter needed two doses of the vaccine, she had not taken her to the immunisation booth. When the vaccinators came to her house, she demurred.

“I have now made it my mission to tell other Muslim mothers that they should not commit the mistake I made. And people have started responding,” she said.

Tarannum, like several others in Muslim-dominated neighbourhoods in Uttar Pradesh, has now joined a drive by a group of Muslim intellectuals and religious leaders to eradicate polio from Aligarh city and the state.

“Led by Aligarh Muslim University academicians, the drive has resulted in a dramatic rise in the percentage of Muslim participation in the anti-polio campaign in Aligarh this month,” a senior official of the state health department said. A 50-per cent jump in participation from the minority community was recorded in the city at yesterday’s pulse polio drive, he added.

This is good news for the state as 11 of the recorded 28 polio cases in Uttar Pradesh this year have been detected in Aligarh city alone. And all the victims come from the Muslim community. “This time we had zeroed in on the slums in Aligarh — particularly the Upper Kot slum where the maximum number of cases have been reported — and the strategy seems to have paid off,” a state official said.

Ray Torris, the Uttar Pradesh representative of Unicef, is quick to give credit to the Muslim intellectuals and clerics for the success of the awareness campaign. “University professionals, imams of prominent mosques and leading Muslim citizens of the city came out to join the campaign. They went door to door convincing people.”

“Mission Upper Kot” was not confined to Aligarh. “We specially instructed district magistrates of all Muslim-dominated districts and areas to make special efforts in their areas and the results have been encouraging,” said R.K. Mittal, principal secretary (health and family welfare).

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