Campaigns by hard-line Indonesian Muslim leaders are reportedly undermining government drives against vaccination-preventable diseases – and at least 32 children died of diphtheria in 2017.
According to this report, more than 600 people were infected with the causative bacterium (Corynebacterium diphtheria) this year. The bulk of the cases are in the densely populated capital, Jakarta. Health officials say the number of diphtheria cases represents a 42 per cent hike over figures for 2016 and over 30 times about a decade ago.
Agustina Kadaristiana, paediatrician and founder of Doctormums, a website which supports maternal and child health, puts the blame squarely on Muslim leaders.
In August, a vaccination drive against measles and rubella was opposed by the Indonesian Council of Islamic Clerics (MUI), which declared that the vaccines contain material taken from pigs – an animal that is taboo in Islam.
I think we need to conduct large-scale research on the anti-vaccination movement to formulate solutions, and this should involve policy makers, researchers, the MUI, media and surveillance agencies.
According to Kadaristiana, many Muslims believe that following “sunnah” (or the way of the Prophet) is enough protection against diseases.
Jane Soepardi, director of surveillance and quarantine at Indonesia’s health ministry, says that anti-vaccination movement in Indonesia is also linked to cultural differences.
We got 100 per cent uptake for the measles and rubella immunisation drive in East Java this year because we gained the support of traditional leaders during the campaign.
East Java was the centre of a diphtheria outbreak in 2009 when no efforts were made to canvass support from traditional leaders. According to Soepardi, hundreds of people who visited the province during the Eid holidays that year got infected and spread the highly contagious disease across the archipelago.
By 2012, infections had soared to 1,192 cases, according to health ministry statistics. While the numbers declined to 394 in 2014, they began to soar again over subsequent years.
The high mobility of Indonesian people is certainly one reason for the increasing number of diphtheria cases. Now we have more than 600 cases in 21 provinces.
Another reason is insufficient vaccination coverage.
It’s reported here that, despite opposition from clerics, the authorities launched a campaign early in December to vaccinate around eight million children against dipthera.