According to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), the support of religious leaders is crucial for the success of polio eradication efforts in Afghanistan - one of the remaining three polio-endemic countries in the world (along with Pakistan and Nigeria). Mullah Rashid is a strong supporter of the polio programme, criss-crossing Kandahar on his motorcycle to talk to communities about the importance of vaccination. Using his own words, this video shows how he supports vaccination teams as they try to vaccinate every last child to ensure they are protected from polio.
In their role as freelance advocates, these so-called "mobile mullahs" go a step beyond the conventional approach to health education. For the most part, religious refusals by skeptical and conservative parents who believe vaccinations for children aren't halal are rare. Still, they occur frequently enough that during door-to-door polio campaigns, the mullahs, who are independent volunteers, remain on standby to intervene. During a typical campaign day, the mullahs can clock anywhere between several kilometers of city driving to more than 100 kilometres of rough rural roads.
In Afghanistan, religious leaders have often been called upon to support polio vaccination campaigns and other children's health initiatives. But their support had previously been limited to gentle endorsements via mosque loudspeakers during the call to prayer. The mobile mullahs' efforts take Islamic doctrine about vaccines out of the mosques and directly to homes, madrassas, and temporary nomadic settlements - often economically poor rural communities where modern health practices provoke deep anxieties. Another mullah is quoted as saying: "When we arrive at their homes and speak with them it establishes that vaccination is something that is supported by Islam and often this is enough to reassure them and make polio drops less threatening."
At the end of its first year of this programme, efforts like Mullah Rashid's have convinced up to 80% of the families who persistently refuse to vaccinate their children against polio to agree to vaccination.
"Afghanistan's Mobile Mullahs on a Mission to Eradicate Polio", GPEI, August 25 2017 - accessed on August 28 2017. Image credit: GPEI