Monday, October 31, 2005

Polio is back, religion is the reason

Polio was a horrible disease. But massive immunisation campaigns had almost eradicated the crippling illness in the West. Three cases were diagnosed in 1999 but it was thought that after that that the disease had been wiped out in the United States.

But now it’s back and it’s back because of religion.

Five children have been diagnosed with polio in a small Amish community in central Minnesota. None of the children were immunised against the disease because it is against the Amish religion to do so.

Health officials have been visiting the Amish homes in the hopes of persuading them to inoculate their children. While some seem convinced many still say they will leave the matter in “God’s hands”. Five children in God’s hands now have polio because of this policy.

This is the not the first time this disease has erupted in Amish settlements. In 1979 there was a significant outbreak of polio in Amish communities in Iowa, Wisconsin, Missouri and Pennsylvania. At that time ten children were paralysed because of the disease.

In Buchanan County, Iowa health officials have tried to persuade Amish residents to have their children vaccinated. When the persuasion program began 94% of Amish children were not vaccinated. In the 98/99 school year the number refusing to be vaccinated was 63%. But since then the numbers being immunised have dropped and most recently 77% were NOT vaccinated.

Rev. William Lindholm of the National Committee for Amish Religious Freedom said that the Amish religion doesn’t specifically forbid immunisation. But the religion does shun all modern conveniences. Lindholm said: “I think [resistance] just comes out of their whole background of being sceptical of science in general.”


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