By Anupam Srivastava
NEW DELHI: Little children’s mouths literally fell open when the cricket players from India and Pakistan immunised them on the eve of the next polio immunisation campaign that started in India on November 25. The cricket players finished a hard day’s play at the Ferozshah Kotla cricket stadium at New Delhi but arrived in time at the make-shift polio booth to launch the immunisation campaign.
They included the Pakistan and Indian cricket captains – Shoaib Malik and Anil Kumble – and top players from both sides such as Shoaib Akhtar and Daanish Kaneri (Pakistan), Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh, Saurav Ganguli and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, among others. “The Bowl Out Polio” campaign brought them together to this unique event.
India and Pakistan continue to report poliovirus transmission and are among the four endemic countries for polio. Cricket is the favourite sport in both countries and the “Bowl Out Polio” campaign was started in India in 2003 by Rotary International, UNICEF WHO with support from the Government of India. Cricket players have been using opportunities such as the current cricket series between India and Pakistan, watched and closely followed by millions of people in both countries, to drive home the message that polio should be eradicated and parents must immunise children repeatedly.Indian cricket team captain Anil Kumble in a message said that good health was the right of every child and polio took away that right. “We must stop polio if children are to have this right,” he said.
Kumble also said that home to one-sixth of the world’s children, India had the largest number of children among the polio-endemic countries. “This means that our children are at the greatest risk of contracting the virus,” he said, asserting the nneed to eradicate polio. UNICEF India Representative Gianni Murzi congratulated both teams and said with their support India and Pakistan would soon see the end of polio.
As they immunised children, Pakistan cricket players were happy that they could do something for the children of India. Fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar embraced children as he immunised them. “No matter what I do, I always have time for children, for a cause such as this,” said Akhtar. Feared by batsmen but loved by children, Shoaib spent a lot of time with them asking them their names and hobbies. Pakistan cricket captain Shoaib Malik was all achievement when he managed to immunise a child.
Pakistan has 17 cases currently while India has 411. Apart from Nigeria and Afghanistan, they are the only two countries in the world that are endemic to the poliovirus.
The “Bowl Out Polio” campaign in India supports the government’s efforts in immunising children through special immunisation campaigns known as the national immunisation days (NID) that takes place throughout India at the same time and the sub-national immunisation days (SNID) that is organised in the more at-risk parts of India, particularly the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar which have the bulk of the polio cases in the country.
As part of the campaign, cricketers have visited polio booths to immunise children, have campaigned for polio eradication by immunising children, made statements on television during cricket matches, visited the field and participated in events to support the programme.