In war-torn Yemen, an Imam advocates the benefits of vaccines

Doctors and religious leaders are critical in establishing confidence and persuading parents and communities to immunize their kids from polio. Dr. Nabeel is a doctor by practice and a qualified imam (Islamic teacher) from the Ministry of Endowment in Southern Yemen, earning him the sobriquet “the mobile imam.” He combines his religious background and medical skills to inform the people about the need for immunization to prevent polio and other fatal illnesses in children.

He addressed many households in a residential neighborhood who were refusing immunizations a few weeks ago. In addition to communicating with them about the polio vaccine’s efficacy and merits, the ‘mobile Imam’ gave his grandchildren polio drops in front of the entire community assembly.

“People began to trust that the vaccine was harmless and beneficial for their children also when they witnessed a doctor and an Imam like myself giving the polio vaccine to my grandkids,” Dr. Nabeel says with a grin.

Requesting other Imams for assistance to spread the message

Dr. Nabeel regularly contacts other Imams, educating them on the efficacy and advantages of polio vaccination and urging them to promote and share this information with the general public during their Friday prayers. 

“Imams have a huge impact on our communities, increasing awareness, establishing social ideals, and encouraging beneficial attitudes, actions, and practices. In some communities, for instance, a single sermon is potent enough to overturn vaccine preconceptions. If Imams are well-informed, it makes a big difference toward fostering trust and vaccine acceptability among the public, allowing children in society to remain healthy and strong with strength in their immune systems to fight polio and other vaccine-preventable diseases,” he adds.

Publicizing the merits of vaccination for more than a decade

Dr. Nabeel has been serving in Yemen’s program on immunization for over a decade, collaborating with UNICEF on polio vaccination drives and regular vaccination programs.

He met several youngsters who were disabled by polio when he initially started working as a pediatrician. He was angry that so many children would have to live with a sickness that could’ve been easily averted with a vaccine for their entire lives.

That was when he decided to devote his energy to informing guardians and families about the need for vaccination. “Vaccines are fraught with myths. Throughout my work, I’ve encountered folks who are opposed to immunization. Some people seem to believe the vaccine will render them sterile, while others assume it is all a hoax.”

However, Dr. Nabeel states, “My numerous years of experience in vaccination and understanding of religious scriptures have been demonstrated to be useful thus far in creating public confidence in the vaccine.”

The ‘mobile Imam’ is also skilled at promoting immunization through the media. He appears frequently on TV and radio talk shows, where he discusses the merits of immunization and responds to questions from worried parents and guardians.

“To address vaccine apprehension and remove vaccine myths, I employ a hybrid approach. Often it’s more successful to discuss why vaccinations are vital to a listener on a radio program than it is to preach about immunizations during a Friday sermon.” Dr. Nabeel concludes.