Is blind belief responsible for the rise of Diphtheria in Malappuram district?

Believing in God or following the rituals associated with one’s religion cannot be considered a sin. Of course, India is a land where traditions, superstitions and rituals are of immense importance.  One can easily sell ‘belief’ and ‘God’ here. This is one of the reasons why India is considered a spiritual destination. But sometimes people are blinded by their beliefs.

A recent example of religion coming in the way of common sense is reports of some people in Malappuram district refusing to take vaccination for Diphtheria due to their blind beliefs. Some people in the Muslim community are dissuading others from taking the vaccine by saying it is made from gelatine (a substance that contains pork). As is commonly known, Islam forbids the consumption of pork.

The return of Diphtheria in the district has drawn a lot of attention from people. The disease was earlier detected here in 2013 and 2015. This year, two of the 10 people diagnosed with Diphtheria have died. In the past too, there have been a significant number of deaths due to the disease in Malappuram district.

The State government’s immunisation process seems to have hit a roadblock after resistance from certain sections of the Muslim community.

The State government is now planning to make the vaccination mandatory before giving school admissions.

Dr. Shibulal, Deputy DMO, Malappuram, said to The Kochi Post that, “The current immunisation status of the district is only 70%. The Diphtheria cases registered now are of children aged 14 or 15 and of those who have not taken the vaccination. This underlines the fact that they should have been immunised some eight years ago. The district faces the problem of poor awareness. There are a lot of fake doctors here who do not even hold proper certificates or degrees and tell the public that there is no need of such vaccinations and all diseases would be cured by their way of treatment.”

Medical experts maintain that that gelatine is not a component in the vaccination. According to them, these rumours have been around for years and no such ingredients are used in the vaccination.

A.P. Unnikrishnan, Malappuram District Panchayat President, said, “We, the District Administration and Health Department, are conducting the disease eradication programmes together.  The continuous occurrence of Diphtheria reported in the district is really saddening. As everyone says, the main reason that people are falling sick is that the vaccination drive is not properly happening here. There are some organisations or groups who are working against the immunisation process. They continuously spread false information regarding this. They are making the public believe that there is no need for immunisation and say that it would result in sterility and other health issues.”

Mr. Unnikrishnan added, “But we are not ready to give up. With the help of religious groups and spiritual heads, a number of awareness programmes are being conducted in schools. We gave the public a message that health and education are the important things a person needs.”

Though massive awareness drives are being conducted in the district, its effectiveness in bringing about a change in people’s minds remains to be seen.


Cover Image by By Jim Gathany [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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