Muslim scholars, leaders to help fight polio

Muslim women and religious leaders in the last three polio endemic countries have agreed to help fight the crippling childhood disease.

Community leaders in Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan agreed to help try to allay fears concerning vaccination in an attempt to finally wipe out polio, according to Reuters.

Following its eradication in India last year, the number of polio cases reported worldwide is at an all-time low. Fears remain, however, that the illness could resurface in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia unless the last remaining reservoirs of the disease are eliminated.

Public health experts said conflict and general lack of security are preventing aid workers from reaching hundreds of thousands of children, particularly in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"The number one issue is security-compromised areas, insecure areas such as in the tribal areas which is still giving us several (polio) cases and is a big challenge for us," Shahnaz Wazir Ali, the special assistant to Pakistan's prime minister, said, Reuters reports. Wazir Ali is in charge of Pakistan's eradication campaign.

Wazir Ali told a news briefing held at the annual ministerial meeting of the World Health Organization that the help of community leaders is sought.

"Religious leaders have been very actively mobilized," Wazir Ali said, Reuters reports.

An endorsement of the polio eradication program was recently signed by 22 top Islamic scholars to help allay the fears Pakistani parents have about vaccinating their children.

"This should put to rest some of the misapprehensions and reservations in the minds of certain areas of the population in Pakistan. We feel this has been quite effective," Wazir Ali said, according to Reuters. "In other words, these endorsements here categorically say that Islam does not in any way, form or manner prevent intake of the oral polio vaccine and that the oral polio vaccine being given to the children is endorsed by them and is fully safe."