Sent: November 6, 2018 8:00
BANGKOK (AP) – Thailand's health authorities race to stop an epidemic of measles in the southern provinces of the country, where there have been 14 deaths and more than 1,500 cases since September.
Officials blame the return of the disease to low rates of vaccination in the south caused by misconceptions among the Muslim population about the nature of the vaccine.
Islam prohibits the consumption of pork, and vaccine manufacturers sometimes use gelatin obtained from pork products as a stabilizing agent. However, a medical official Vicharn Pawan said that Thailand imports measles vaccines that do not contain porcine gelatin.
Recent cases in the Southern-dominated provinces in most Muslim provinces in Thailand constitute half of the total for the whole country since the beginning of the year.
Measles throughout the country have increased in recent years, the Ministry of Health in Thailand has reported. Last year there were almost 3,000 cases – no deaths – compared to just over 1,000 in 2012. According to the World Health Organization, this year Japan and Brazil also reported measles epidemics, while in Europe there was a sharp increase in 2017 from over 20,000 cases and 35 deaths.
"There are more and more misunderstandings related to vaccinations that are spreading around Muslim communities, some have argued that they are against their religion to receive vaccines, while others think that it is not safe," said Anchanee Heemmina, activist for rights area on the south.
The Ulaa Indonesian council, the religious body that rules 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. He ruled that Muslims can use such vaccines out of necessity until other options are available. His statement came after the outbreak of an epidemic of measles in the eastern province of Indonesia in Papua, which was considered responsible for the deaths of up to 100 children.
Indonesian controversies may be responsible for the fears of Muslims in Thailand and other countries.
According to the Office of Prevention and Control at the Thai Ministry of Health, misunderstandings regarding vaccination have led to certain areas where only 60 percent of the population receives vaccines.
In the case of highly contagious diseases such as measles, the World Health Organization claims that at least 95 percent of the population must be vaccinated so that the community can be considered immune to the spread of the disease.
Health authorities in Thailand posted messages from local religious leaders on their websites, asking people to accept vaccinations.
One video message from the Central Islamic Council in Thailand explains that even if vaccines contain religiously prohibited items, priority will be given to the medical benefit of the person and the community.
In the meantime, health professionals visit schools and homes in areas affected by the measles epidemic to take care of children under the age of 5 in order to receive free immunizations, offering them to other people who have been found to be particularly vulnerable. They are also trying to disseminate information that Islamic religious organizations have agreed to the use of such vaccines, said Vicharn Pawan, director of the Office for Communication of Risk and Health Behaviors of the Ministry of Health.
Resistance was not defeated. Twenty families from three villages in the province of Yala refused to vaccinate, and 10 families signed official letters in which they expressed their intention not to receive any vaccines in the future, the secret editor-in-chief of ThaiPBS reported.
Public Health Office Yala said in a statement that his medical teams will continue to work in communities to address their concerns.
"We are still facing difficult tasks," said Vicharn. "However, health professionals will continue to communicate with communities, even if they refuse vaccinations this time, we will have to continue to visit and communicate that vaccines are good for their health and community."