9 February, 2010
Sumitra Deb Roy
Health staff working on the polio–immunisation drive say there is still widespread opposition to administering polio drops among certain sections in the state.
TOI spoke to several field workers, who said many still felt polio drops were contaminated with animal blood that could render their child impotent or that the drops were imported from the US with a larger conspiracy behind. Before every National Immunisation Day, new misconceptions about the vaccine do the rounds, a field worker said.
The recently detected P1 strain of the polio virus in an 18–month–old boy in Malegaon last week has brought to the fore the underlying defiance prevailing among residents to the vaccine, all because of myths and misunderstandings. As many as 1,000 families in Malegaon refused polio vaccination during the last drive in January. Additional director of state health services Ashok Ladda confirmed the figures but said the situation was worse five years ago.
Despite best of efforts to bust the myths about the oral polio vaccine, touted as the most effective to eradicate the virus, the state has failed to convince many sections of the population. “We should not call it a complete failure as in the last five years, 80%– 90% of the resistance has come down,” said Ravindra Banpel, WHO regional team leader, National Polio Surveillance Programme.
A bigger challenge, say experts, lies in tackling hidden resistance. During immunisation drives, mothers tend to say their children are away or not keeping well, just to evade health workers. Such families do not say no to vaccination openly, said Banpel. Even in 18–month–old Kafin Afrar Ahmed’s case (P1 strain victim), his parents had dodged healthcare workers’ effort to vaccinise him, either saying he was away or he was ill.
Sometimes rumours about the vaccine are as far–fetched as Americans have made it to make children impotent. Now, the state has prepared ways to tackle such “beliefs”. Volunteers propagated that India got the vaccine manufactured in Indonesia, a Muslim country, so anything “wrong” was ruled out, said Banpel. These simple messages had helped to fight misconceptions to a great extent, he said.
About two years ago, such defiance was also reported in certain areas but now, resistance is almost negligible in Mumbai, the BMC claimed.