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Pakistan: Husband divorces wife for vaccinating their family against polio

5 Jul, 2019
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A woman who was divorced by her husband for having their children inoculated against polio has condemned the “anti-vaxx” campaign that is sweeping Pakistan.

Dua Rabbani, 26, was at home with her children when a vaccination team arrived in the area, on the outskirts of Karachi two weeks ago. Her husband, Israr Ahmed, was at work but had left strict instructions that the children were not to receive the vaccine.

“He had often fought with me about vaccinations. He said they were suspicious and damaged children’s health,” Ms Rabbani said.

Rumours have spread like wildfire across Pakistan in recent weeks, fuelled by a series of lurid videos posted on social media claiming that scores of children who had taken polio drops during a recent vaccination drive had fallen ill soon afterwards and died. Health clinics were set on fire and thousands of families have refused to let their children be vaccinated as a result, frustrating a government push to declare Pakistan polio free.

Ms Rabbani had not been swayed by the panic and, unknown to her husband, she had already had their four-year-old son, Arham, and their nine-month-old daughter vaccinated at her parents’ house against other diseases. When the polio team knocked at her door, she immediately ushered them inside.

“My main concern is the health of my children. My daughter is getting weaker and I could not skip the polio vaccination drops out of fear of my husband,” she said. This time, though, she could not conceal her deception: the polio team marked the children’s fingers with indelible ink.

When Mr Ahmed came home and realised what had happened he flew into a rage and divorced her on the spot, Ms Rabbani said, using the “triple talaq” practice that grants a Muslim man instant divorce by saying the word “talaq” — divorce in Arabic — three times. Ms Rabbani and her children were thrown out of the house.

Pakistan is one of only three countries where polio has not been wiped out, along with Afghanistan and Nigeria. Despite a vaccination drive that has reached almost 40 million children this year, there have been at least 37 confirmed polio cases, almost triple the number recorded last year.

Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have pulled down at least 200 videos falsely claiming that hundreds of children died after vaccinations. However, Islamist militants are still attacking vaccination teams, believing them to be a conspiracy to sterilise Muslim children or a cover for western spy agencies. The Pakistani vaccination drive was halted for several days after a health worker and two police officers guarding her were shot and killed in May.

Now living at her mother’s house, Ms Rabbani said that Mr Ahmed was “pleading to come back, but our relationship is over, according to Islam. I support the vaccination campaign against this crippling disease. It is vital for the children. I will not take any risks with my children’s health.”

This entry was posted on Friday, July 5th, 2019 at 11:10 am and is filed under Latest News.

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Literature Literature archive

Sabahelzain MM et al. 2019 PLoS ONE VOl 14 (6): e0213882.
KT Paul, K Loer 2019 Journal of Public Health Policy Volume 40, Issue 2
J Kennedy 2019 The European Journal of Public Health Vol. 29, No. 3, 512–516
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