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Religious Advocacy

Uttar Pradesh enjoys the dubious distinction of being the world's epicenter of polio, time & again. Although Muslims form around a fifth of the state's population they accounted for almost 70% of the polio cases in 2002. This owes to a variety of factors, including high levels of illiteracy, rampant poverty, poor unhygienic living conditions, and inadequate state-provided health facilities. To add to this is a marked reluctance among many Muslims to vaccinate their children, fearing that the polio vaccine leads to impotency.

Polio eradication partners expressed concern about the negative perceptions of polio campaign amongst the Muslim community and requested Rotary to take it upon itself to help quell the resistance, before false rumours and myths could gain bigger ground. Prior to this, Rotary had initiated intensive awareness drives to bring about acceptance among ignorant population like getting an endorsement for polio vaccination in the Muslim community through Muslim religious leaders in the year 1995. However, the situation on the ground between the years 2002 - 2006, and also partners' requests prompted Rotary to initiate a massive campaign to address these concerns with the cooperation of the enlightened sections of the community.

The INPPS of Rotary International had in the past too, launched a series of meaningful activities addressing this issue. They approached the religious heads - Clerics, Maulanas, Maulvis, and Scholars - and mobilized, sensitized and encouraged them to get directly involved in educating their community members about the importance of polio immunisation. The population was informed about how the OPV had been well received and benefited Muslims in other parts of the country. In one such initiative, Rotary hit the jack-pot by getting on board three reputed religious leaders from three different Muslim sects in Lucknow in 2004 to advocate polio vaccination.

Muslim Ulemas and Scholars Conclave

The biggest achievement so far in the effort to engage the minority community has been the establishment of the Rotaryís Muslim Ulema Committee.

In August 2006 Rotary organized the biggest ever conclave in New Delhi of eminent religious leaders and scholars, representing different sects of the Muslim community, to discuss the polio situation and the need for engaging the Muslim community leadership in the eradication campaign.

This meeting was hailed as a major private health initiative in India which gave an opportunity to the religious heads and scholars of the community to assemble under one platform and discuss threadbare the causes of greater incidence of polio in the Muslim community and the viable eradication measures which could be adopted to make the polio vaccine acceptable by this community. Muslim religious leaders and the media both lauded Rotary's efforts in this direction.

Muslim Ulema Committee State Level

Thereafter, the INPPS of Rotary International formed a state level committee comprising of very learned and highly respected Muslim Ulemas and scholars in U.P. The committee comprised of 7 executive members. All the members are well-reputed and influential Muslim citizens of U.P. This was an effort to directly involve the heads and the think - tanks of the Muslim communities with the campaign.

The committee was assigned with tasks that especially helped address issues like myths, fallacies and resistance in the minority communities against the programme and also to support the partners in the implementation of the programme in their community.

This State Ulema Committee thereafter played a significant role in bringing about a metamorphosis in the mindset of our Muslim brethren and successfully persuaded the hitherto resistant and unwilling sections of the community to accept the Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV) for their children. Further the state level Ulema formed District level committee in all the districts of U.P.

Since the day Ulemas were approached to participate in this programme, 90 per cent of the myths and fallacies associated with it amongst the Muslims have been erased and there is increasing participation by members of the community.

In 2008, Muslim children accounted for just 38% of the total number of children affected by polio which earlier used to be 70% in the state of U.P.

Today this Muslim Ulema Committee which Rotary helped set up is a resource pool that the U.P. Govt. as well as social organizations seek intervention of, for their ongoing social efforts.

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