Rawalpindi Arts’ Council’s ‘unconventional’ take on polio

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By Wasif Mahmood

Rawalpindi, Punjab – A beautiful bride-to-be, her handsome fiancé and a girl affected by a debilitating illness. This is hardly the conventional sort of love-triangle that audiences are used to here in Pakistan.

Even more unusual is who ultimately leaves the festivities a married woman.

In traditionally conservative Pakistan, it has long been the accepted norm that children largely comply with their parents’ wishes. This holds true for both matters of the heart and health.

Yet the play Rog, hosted by the Rawalpindi Arts Council, has turned this notion on its head and shown audiences that parents’ well-meaning – but often misguided actions – can, sadly, at times threaten the very lives and happiness of their children.

During the revelries, a mother witnesses the unintentional humiliation of her daughter. Following repeated calls to get up and dance to celebrate the impending nuptials – the girl can hold back no longer.

“Can’t you see that I can’t walk? I have been struck by polio!”

Unable to further endure her daughter’s anguish, the mother runs on to the stage to publicly admit responsibility for her condition.

“I didn’t let her have the anti-polio drops because I thought they would make her sterile.”

To the surprise of the audience – comprised mainly of undergraduate students from the city’s various universities and colleges – the protagonist steps in and jilts his fiancée in order to marry the polio-stricken girl.

Today, the eradication of polio is crucial to Pakistan’s wellbeing. Pakistan is one of three countries identified as exporting the virus beyond national borders. International travellers are not permitted to leave Pakistan, Syria and Cameroon without valid polio immunisation certificates.

Rog is the brainchild of renowned playwright Nahid Manzoor. Given her long history of writing and producing pieces focusing on social issues – it is hardly surprising that Ms Manzor’s priority is not Pakistan’s global image but, rather, those directly affected by the debilitating disease. 

Nevertheless, she cannot quite believe the extent of the misinformation that surrounds child imunisation; leading ordinary people to believe that the vaccines contain family planning ingredients prohibited by Islam.

Rog came about as part of special effort by the artists to highlight the plight of a polio survivor, who like so many others, has had to pay for her parents’ misguided actions with her health.

Manzoor herself is no stranger to the devastating impact of disabilities. “When I was a child, I had a close friend who was affected by polio. She left an indelible mark on my mind”, she recalls.

Pakistan is one of the world’s last three countries where the polio has not been eradicated and the only polio-endemic country in the world where polio cases rose from 2012 to 2013. The number of polio cases in Pakistan stand at 83 in 2014 so far from 10 districts and towns.

Mother of polio-affected girl, played by Sapna Khan, says she was saddened to hear about so many children being struck by the virus.

“As a mother I feel it is so difficult to say no to vaccination because it has repercussions for the children. Who knows the virus circulating in the nearest nullah mows your child down. If, unfortunately, it happens feeling of guilt will not let live parents happily ever after’, she says.

Rog was a production by Rawalpindi Arts Council as part of an awareness seminar by Rotary, which was partly collaborated by the UNICEF.

Although nearly all parents accept polio vaccine if workers are able to deliver it, findings of the Knowledge, Awareness and Practice (KAP) survey conducted in select parts of suggest there are some misperceptions about polio and oral polio vaccine. These misconceptions could erode demand in the future, if parents do not see this terrible disease as a real threat to their children’s health, or if they are not convinced of the multiple dosing required for full protection.

In order to provide children under five-years-old their basic right to health, UNICEF has joined hands with like-minded organisations like Rotary for maximum impact of communication aimed at sustained behavioural change.

FAQs

 

What are the symptoms of polio?

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Stiffness in the neck
  • Pain in the limbs