One of the classics on my bookshelf is Ar-Raheeq Al-Makhtum (The Sealed Nectar), written by a biographer named Safiur Rahman al-Mubarakpuri. The selection was awarded the first prize by the Muslim World League at a worldwide competition on the biography of the Prophet (PBUH) held at Makkah in 1399H/1979.
The work moves within a chronological frame, which begins with a brief history of the Arab tribes. The rulership of Yemen, Heerah, Syria and Hijaz is examined. The event that engulfed the Abyssinian viceroy of Yemen approximately 50 days prior to the birth of the Prophet (PBUH) is noted, albeit the full tale and significance of what happened to Abraha As-Sabah Al-Habashi is better understood with the exegesis provided by a scholar from Houston, Texas. Vignette-by-vignette, ayat by ayat and through the use of ahadith, the life of a man is shown in epic proportions. The book winds down with sections that note information about “The Prophet’s household” and “The Prophet’s attributes and manners”.
However, tucked into the beginning pages of The Sealed Nectar is the story of parental love, which allowed a child to grow and thrive. There was a custom amongst the Arabs who lived within close quarters. They would set their children apart with Bedouin wet nurses to grow and thrive in the healthy and clean desert environment. The wet nurse of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was a woman named Haleemah. There was “a certain infection peculiar to Makkah” and anxiety persisted with regard to the children. A small child grew strong and free of disease because he was sent into the desert. His mother later died while he was still young. But love left a mark.
Love left another mark on the child who would later grow up to lead a nation. The aforementioned selection also tells the story of the Monk Georges (also known by the name of Bahira). When the young Muhammad (PBUH) accompanied his uncle, Abu Talib, on a caravan journey to Syria, they were entertained by this religious hermit. Georges recognised the young lad by “the seal of the Prophethood, which is below his shoulder, like an apple”. I like to imagine that this mark was a full complement of vaccinations against disease.
Love has left a mark on my own life. A smallpox vaccine has left a barely noticeable scar on my upper arm. There is also a small scar on one muscle from where I received the BCG vaccine against tuberculosis. The oral polio vaccine and others against whooping cough and measles are distant childhood memories but the love of my mother guarded my health. I remember how my hand felt when she clasped it firmly in her own as she marched me into the immunisation clinic. I also remember the smell of disinfectant in the air.
The Centre for Disease Control maintains the Division for Vector-Borne Diseases (DVDB) in a utilitarian appearing building in Fort Collins, Colorado. The DVDB is one of the foremost research centres for the study of vector-borne disease. This research is geared towards the prevention, containment and control of human misery. Approximately 100 scientists are scurrying about on any given day. Their passion is the world of ticks, mosquitoes and fleas. They understand that vector-borne diseases are “among the most complex of all infectious diseases to prevent and control”. The habitat for these vectors is not only the human population but also the animal kingdom. The west Nile virus, dengue fever, lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever are on the guest list for these scientists. Yersenia pestis — a disease that killed ‘Amir bin At-Tufail’ — is on the guest list. Chikungunya and the Rift Valley fever viruses are on the alpha list, as my nation prepares for the possible introduction of these diseases into our population. We can spray, swat, remove and squash the life out of the more common vectors but they are so prolific there is the need for constant vigilance from the science community.
I slept under a mosquito net when on a navy medical mission to Ghana, West Africa. I also dutifully took my Doxycycline with the understanding that dealing with the side effect of acid reflux was far better than joining the ranks of those with malaria and enlarged spleens. However, Pakistan continues to turn a blind eye to the mother of all disease vectors. It is ignorance. And this ignorance now places Pakistan in the media spotlight. Your nation’s failure to aggressively fight polio through the use of a simple vaccine has initiated a global response and backlash. Want to fly out of Pakistan? No deal, minus proof of a polio vaccine. We do not want you. You are exporting a disease that we seek to eradicate.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Pakistan is the only nation with endemic polio, which saw an increase in cases last year. The emergency measures applied by WHO are also applicable for Cameroon and Syria. I can understand why Syrian children may be at greater risk of polio. Sudden flight and movement into internally displaced persons (IDP) camps can make it hard for government officials to track the status of the children. I am unsure why Cameroon is dealing with endemic polio. But Pakistan? You have been a nation for too long. And you work hard for your own national stability.
Ignorance is the mother of all disease vectors. It is ignorance that emits the bioacoustics heard from the Taliban and others as they warn parents against vaccinating their children. It is the ignorant who shoot healthcare workers. And only the ignorant believe that they will never be touched by a tragedy that can be averted with the simple administration of a medication.
Love always leaves a mark on the life of a child. That love is shown in the meals that a mother prepares for her children, the clothing and education provided by the father and yes — the polio vaccine to prevent nervous system damage and its rapidly ensuing paralysis. The government must get to work. Love is also practical.
The writer is a freelance journalist and author of the novel Arsenal. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org