Amid concerns over the return of diphtheria in the state, Kerala Health Minister K K Shylaja today said two persons have died and 37 were confirmed to have been affected with the disease.
Denying opposition's charge that there was a scarcity of preventive vaccine, the minister told the Assembly that the government had already launched a massive vaccination drive in the worst-hit Malappuram district with an aim to immunise over 2.30 lakh children.
The return of the disease caused concern as the bacterial infection had been completely eradicated from the state through vaccination and immunisation programmes years ago, she said.
Replying to a notice for adjournment motion for a debate on the matter, the minister said few cases of diphtheria were also reported in Kozhikode and Palakkad districts and steps have already been taken to check the spread of the disease.
The reluctance of a section of a people in Malappuram to go for vaccination was one of the reasons for the sudden spurt of the disease in the district. Superstition and some unethical treatment methods, which have been under practice in the area, also contributed to the present situation, she said.
However, due to the the government intervention, various sections of society, including religious heads, had offered full support to the present immunisation drive, she said.
"Following the intervention of the government, a large number of children in Malappuram have already been vaccinated under the special immunisation drive. There is no scarcity of preventive vaccines. Steps have been taken to ensure the stock of at least 4.50 lakh doses necessary for the programme," she said.
Stressing the significance of immunisation, she said both the children, who died due to the disease, had not undergone vaccination.
The matter of concern was that though diphtheria was a disease which used to affect children below the age of 15, the disease was also reported in persons above the age of 35 in the state in recent days.
Taking up the issue, IUML MLA M Ummer alleged that there was a scarcity of preventive vaccines and wanted the government to take urgent steps on war footing to face the situation.
Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala urged the government to carry out a state-wide awareness drive, coordinating various departments, to persuade people for vaccination. He also suggested the government to make vaccination mandatory for getting school admissions.