Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Muslims Can Lead the Fight Against Polio

April 26, 2013

This post originally appeared on the MADE in Europe blog site.

Last night, whilst I was doing some research to write this blog, my mum called me for dinner. She straight away noticed that I was chewing a bit slower and not eating much. This obviously was not about any intention to fit into a size zero, but an inevitable reaction by my subconscious stomach which was still getting to grips with polio and churning about its consequences.

Polio - or poliomyelitis in fancy medical jargon - is a crippling disease which is potentially infectious and has no cure. It is most common amongst infants and young children where there is poor hygiene. Polio can also affect older individuals, who suffer much worse physical deterioration than children. The spinal cord is affected, causing muscle weakness and often leading to paralysis.

Most infected people do not show any obvious signs of catching this illness. Generally, people suffer from fever, vomiting and stiffness in their limbs prior to the virus taking over their bodies. This finding was disturbing me immensely. While lifting the fork of food to my mouth, I was making particular note of all movements involved and thinking "imagine if I wasn't able to feed myself as a child or even as an adult, imagine a dependent life." My gratitude to God increased massively and so did my mental distance from my dinner which sat almost untouched before me.

Snapping out my melancholic imaginary world, I reminded myself that polio has significantly decreased as a result of vaccinations which strengthen the immune system to prevent individuals from being infected. Polio used to be found in almost every country with around half a million lives lost every year. Now there are only three countries in the world affected by polio - Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan – all Muslim-majority countries.

In areas where an Islamic lifestyle is upheld and since "cleanliness is half of faith", an illness emerging from poor sanitary conditions and hygiene should be a surprise. Even though health officials and the respective governments of the countries have taken numerous measures to improve vaccinations, it is the frail state of these countries which hinder the eradication efforts. There's a whole host of things from misconceptions about the content of vaccinations, cultural reservations about health officials who are strangers, the ability to access remote areas, and having enough funding. With barely any food remaining on my plate, I thought, "yes, I did wash my hands before eating."

Last week these issues were finally addressed. His Highness General Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed bin Sulthan Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Bill Gates, co-chair of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation co-hosted the Global Vaccine Summit in Abu Dhabi. With a promise to eradicate polio by 2018, leaders at the summit committed $4billion including £300million from the UK government.

One of the highlights of this summit is that it was held in an Islamic State given that the three remaining affected countries are Muslim-majority countries. "Islamic leadership ... is a critical part of this final stage of polio eradication," said Dr. Chris Elias, president of global development for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. As Muslims, we should be the pioneers of safeguarding human welfare and now we have been given this opportunity to contribute towards something miraculous, we must support it wholeheartedly. The invitation and the responsibility of course extends beyond the participants of the summit to each one of us in our own capacity.

My chewing resorted to a normal speed – my taste buds finally recognising the ingredients and smilingly a compliment was uttered for my mum's cooking skills. "Seconds Ma", I say!

Also be sure to check out Guardian Global Development gallery Immunisation in Islamic countries.

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