For almost two years, there were no cases of diphtheria in Malappuram in Kerala. Through a sustained vaccination campaign, the number of cases were significantly reduced and since 2013, there were no reported cases of the bacterial disease which can prove fatal. But that was until last week, when suddenly two kids died due to diphtheria. The reason, health officials claim, is the lack of immunization, encouraged by Muslim groups who are against vaccines.
Speaking to The News Minute, government officials claimed that some Muslim organizationsâ€™ reluctance to vaccination could be responsible for the outbreak of this disease. Yesterday, Health Minister VS Shivakumar even told reporters that the number of kids taking vaccinations had decreased in Malappuram due to the anti-immunisation stand of religious organizations.
Several health officers have told The News Minute that cadres of Muslim religious groups have been conducting campaigns against vaccinations in the villages of Malappuram. â€śAll the members of religious organisations may not do this, but some of them have been preaching against vaccinations,â€ť said a Health Inspector from the district seeking anonymity.
All the victims who have been affected with diphtheria were in the age group of 10-12 years, and were not vaccinated. Both the victims who succumbed to diphtheria had also not taken any vaccinations.
The Jamaat-e-Islami, the organisation which has been primarily accused of running anti-immunisation campaigns has denied taking a stand on the issue. â€śIn our organization there are those who support and those who donâ€™t support vaccinations. It is individual choices whether to vaccinate your child. And it is not Jamaat-e-Islamiâ€™s duty to give awareness regarding vaccinations, it is the governmentâ€™s duty. Till now we have not taken any official stand in this issue and we will not also,â€ť Jamaat-e-Islami, state secretary Mujeeb Rahman told The News Minute.
Meanwhile, another religious organization Nadavuthul Mujaihideen has said that both science and spirituality should be given equal importance, and that medicines and vaccinations should not be overruled by orthodox beliefs. They also say that they will try their best to remove stigma attached to vaccinations among Muslims.
â€śEarlier many were reluctant to even approach doctors for treatment. It took a long time to change that trend. Many social leaders strived to create awareness in the community regarding this, so even now we will continue to do so,â€ť said Abdulla Koya Madani, state secretary of Nadavuthul Mujaihideen.
Koya also says that there may be many extremist groups which donâ€™t support vaccinations but they should be neglected, and government should focus more on giving proper awareness.
â€śMany groups have different opinions, it is not easy to correct them so it is always better to neglect it and focus on more proper awareness campaigns,â€ť he added.
Media reports say that in Malappuram 23,912 children out of the 3,42,657 below the age of five, have been kept out of all vaccinations. Thatâ€™s the highest in the state for a district. Among them 6,132 children below two years of age haven't received any of the vaccinations.
Another official from Directorate Health Services Thiruvananthapuram confirmed to TNM that 25 percent of children below the age of 5 have not received vaccination in Malappuram district alone.