Mus­lim con­cern about vac­cine fu­els Thai measles out­break

The Myanmar Times - - Asean Focus -

HEALTH au­thor­i­ties in Thai­land are rac­ing to con­tain a measles out­break in the coun­try’s south­ern prov­inces, where 14 deaths and more than 1500 cases have been re­ported since Septem­ber.

Of­fi­cials blame the come­back of the dis­ease on low vac­ci­na­tion rates in the south caused by mis­con­cep­tions among the Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion about the na­ture of the vac­cine.

Is­lam pro­hibits the con­sump­tion of pork, and vac­cine mak­ers some­times use gelatin de­rived from pork prod­ucts as a sta­bi­liz­ing agent. How­ever, health of­fi­cial Vicharn Pawan said Thai­land im­ports measles vac­cine prod­ucts that do not con­tain porcine gelatin.

The re­cent cases in Bud­dhist-dom­i­nated Thai­land’s Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity south­ern prov­inces rep­re­sent half the to­tal for the whole coun­try since the be­gin­ning of the year.

Measles cases na­tion­wide have in­creased in re­cent years, Thai­land’s Health Min­istry said. Last year, nearly 3000 cases — with no deaths — were re­ported, com­pared to just over 1000 in 2012.

Ac­cord­ing to the UN’s World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion, this year Ja­pan and Brazil have also re­ported measles out­breaks, while Europe ex­pe­ri­enced a surge last year with more than 20,000 cases and 35 deaths.

“In­creas­ingly, there is a lot of mis­un­der­stand­ing about vac­ci­na­tions that spread around Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ties here. Some said it is against their re­li­gion to re­ceive vac­cine shots, while oth­ers think it’s not safe,” said An­cha­nee Heem­mina, a rights ac­tivist who lives in an af­fected area in the south.

The In­done­sian Ulema Coun­cil, the re­li­gious body gov­ern­ing the world’s largest Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion, had to deal with the same prob­lem ear­lier this year when some lo­cal Mus­lim groups de­clared their op­po­si­tion to the vac­cine.

It ruled that Mus­lims are al­lowed to use such vac­cines out of ne­ces­sity un­til other op­tions are avail­able.

Its state­ment came af­ter a measles out­break in In­done­sia’s east­ern prov­ince of Pa­pua was be­lieved re­spon­si­ble for the deaths of as many as 100 chil­dren.

The In­done­sian con­tro­versy may be re­spon­si­ble for the con­cerns among Mus­lims in Thai­land and other coun­tries.

Ac­cord­ing to the Thai Health Min­istry’s Pre­ven­tion and Con­trol of­fice, the mis­un­der­stand­ings about vac­ci­na­tions have re­sulted in some ar­eas in which only 60 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion re­ceives im­mu­ni­sa­tions.

For highly con­ta­gious dis­eases such as measles, the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion says at least 95 pc of the pop­u­la­tion must be vac­ci­nated for a com­mu­nity to be con­sid­ered im­mune to the spread of the dis­ease.

Health au­thor­i­ties in Thai­land have posted mes­sages from lo­cal re­li­gious lead­ers on their web­sites urg­ing peo­ple to ac­cept vac­ci­na­tions. One video mes­sage from the Cen­tral Is­lamic Coun­cil of Thai­land ex­plains that even if vac­cines con­tain re­li­giously pro­hib­ited items, the med­i­cal ben­e­fit to a per­son and the com­mu­nity would take prece­dence.

Health work­ers mean­while are vis­it­ing schools and homes in ar­eas with measles out­breaks to tar­get chil­dren un­der age five for free vac­ci­na­tions, of­fer­ing them also to oth­ers who are judged vul­ner­a­ble.

They are also try­ing to spread the word that Is­lamic re­li­gious bod­ies have given their ap­proval for the use of such vac­cines, said Vicharn Pawan, di­rec­tor of the Health Min­istry’s Bu­reau of Risk Com­mu­ni­ca­tion and Health Be­hav­iour.

Re­sis­tance has not been over­come. Twenty fam­i­lies from three vil­lages in Yala prov­ince re­fused vac­ci­na­tions, with 10 of the fam­i­lies sign­ing for­mal let­ters stat­ing their in­ten­tion to not re­ceive any im­mu­ni­sa­tions in the fu­ture, pub­lic broad­caster ThaiPBS re­ported Mon­day.

Yala’s pub­lic health of­fice said in a state­ment that its med­i­cal teams will con­tinue to work in the com­mu­ni­ties to ad­dress their con­cerns.

“We are still fac­ing tough tasks,” said Vicharn. “But health work­ers will con­tinue to reach out to com­mu­ni­ties. Even if they refuse vac­ci­na­tions this time around, we will have to keep up the visits and con­tinue to de­liver the mes­sage that vac­cines are good for their health and their com­mu­nity.”

Photo: AP

Health au­thor­i­ties in Thai­land are rac­ing to con­tain a measles out­break in the coun­try’s south­ern prov­inces that has caused 14 since Septem­ber.

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