After a break of one year, diphtheria cases have been reported in Kerala’s Malappuram district again. Two diphtheria deaths were reported in the past week, taking the total confirmed cases this year to five. In 2013, the district reported 11 cases, with one death, but last year there were no reports of any diphtheria cases.
Government officials said the present outbreak in Malappuram could be attributed to the Muslim community’s reluctance to vaccination. Malappuram has the second largest Muslim population among Indian districts.
Malappuram district medical officer Dr Ummer Farook said this year’s cases were reported from two residential Muslim institutions. The victims were in the age group of 10-12 years, and were not vaccinated.
Dr Farook said that though Muslim community leaders did not speak against vaccination, there could be a section of people who were averse to it. Apart from orthodox elements, some naturopathy and homeopathy doctors were also behind the anti-vaccination propaganda, said the DMO. “A section of society considers vaccination an American agenda. They fall into the trap of anti-vaccination campaigners. However, due to consistent effort in recent years, the district has achieved 90 per cent vaccination in the category of under-five children.”
Health Minister V S Sivakumar said the tempo of vaccination had decreased in Malappuram and Kasargode districts due to the anti-immunisation stand of certain sections. “The department will conduct a major immunisation drive in these districts. The situation is under control and the present outbreak cannot be attributed to any lapse on the part of the government,” he said.
Early this year, the health department conducted a survey in Malappuram which showed that among 3,55,279 children below the age of five, 4,729 had not taken any kind of vaccination.
The government has started a new survey in the district to pinpoint children who have not been vaccinated. Camps will be held for them from October 1 to 10.
Farook said, “It was assessed that 25 per cent children below the age of 15 have not taken any vaccination. We will give DPT vaccine for children below the age of 7. Students of fifth and tenth class will be given TD vaccine for tetanus and diphtheria.”
According to public health expert Dr K P Aravindan, health workers should talk to sections opposed to immunisation. “A section in the Muslim community fears that vaccination is an American agenda to control population. Such elements should introspect, considering the child’s right to immunisation.”