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Religious tolerance is OK until it starts interfering with community health

Tim Newton

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Last week it was revealed that six children have died in the southern provinces of Thailand since June this year. Sadly, children die all the time through misadventure and incurable disease.

But these six children died from Measles, one of the many diseases that have been brought under control in most communities over the past half century. Vaccination has also brought under control scores of other, in the past, deadly or disabling diseases. Here are just a few…

  1. Measles
  2. Rubella
  3. Cholera
  4. Meningococcal disease
  5. Influenza
  6. Diphtheria
  7. Mumps
  8. Tetanus
  9. Hepatitis A
  10. Pertussis
  11. Tuberculosis
  12. Hepatitis B
  13. Pneumoccocal disease
  14. Typhoid fever
  15. Hepatitis E
  16. Poliomyelitis
  17. Tick-borne encephalitis
  18. Haemophilus influenzae type b
  19. Rabies
  20. Varicella and herpes zoster (shingles)
  21. Human papilloma-virus
  22. Rotavirus gastroenteritis
  23. Yellow fever
  24. Japanese encephalitis

There is no mystery about all this. The untold misery that’s been prevented by the science of vaccines has been one of the greatest inventions in medical history. So why are we reading this news?

Yala province alone has registered nearly 500 measles infections since the disease began spreading in June, according to the Yala Provincial Public Health Office. So far there have been six deaths in the province, and the infection rate has rapidly risen since September.

The recent completely baseless fear-mongering about vaccines and their connections with autism, has now been completely debunked and disproven. There is no peer-reviewed evidence that supports these claims, originally made by a now-discredited Dr. Andrew Wakefield in 1993, now struck off the UK medical register for unethical behaviour, misconduct and fraud.

When added to religious conviction, this mis-information can become life-threatening for the unvaccinated and uneducated.

“The main cause of the mass outbreak of measles in the far South is the large number of Muslims who are refusing to take the vaccine,” said Vaccine Preventable Diseases Division director Dr Pornsak Yoocharoen.

For a Muslim mother, she is torn between a number of clashing influences – the Thai medical system which rolls out the World Health Organisation standard for vaccination of children, misinformation on the internet, some Dato (Islamic teachers) who advise against vaccines and their Islamic texts which, in a round-a-bout manner, says Muslims shouldn’t be vaccinated (depending on your interpretation).

Dr Abdul Majid Katme, head of the Islamic Medical Association, is telling Muslims that almost all vaccines contain products derived from animal and human tissue, which make them “haram”, or unlawful for Muslims to take. Islam permits only the consumption of halal products, where the animal has had its throat cut and bled to death while God’s name is invoked.

But, put simply, the facts must win out if Thailand is to avoid a dangerous outbreak of measles, and potentially, other completely preventable diseases

Not vaccinating children is a form of child abuse. If not vaccinating your own child isn’t bad enough, the situation can get completely out of control, quickly, as measles (in particular) is very infectious and can spread to unvaccinated populations quickly. So it’s not just about you and your children, it’s about the whole community.

“We have been trying to promote childhood immunisation in the three Southernmost provinces for many years, but these efforts are not very fruitful. This is because since the southern insurgency was ignited a decade ago, officers have found it harder to work with local communities due to the lack of trust among local Muslims and the insecure situation for the officers,” said Dr Pornsak.

Whilst the battle against passionately-held beliefs, misinformation and non-sensical religious-based resistance to vaccines seems unsurmountable, it is one area where ‘tolerance’ is not an option when there are wider public health implications. Big implications.

Sheikhul Islam Office secretary Sutham Boonmalert directly addressed the issue last week, saying that though some vaccines contain ingredients derived from pigs, which are forbidden for Muslims, it was more important for a good Muslim to remain in good physical health at all times.

A book written some 1,400 years ago, long before anything was known about the causes of disease and famine, let alone vaccines, is not a reliable text for the modern control of public health. People are well entitled to their religious beliefs and should be able to conduct their lives in a way that brings them comfort, peace and happiness. But when those beliefs step into the realm of public health and community safety the push-back from authorities must be swift and firm.

Believe what you will but leave you faith at the front door of the hospital or medical clinic before you enter.

The three southern Thailand provinces are now facing a serious outbreak of measles – this is a major public health concern for anyone traveling to these communities or the possibilities of infected people travelling beyond their daily borders.

Having any children diagnosed with Measles in 2018 is a preventable scandal that deserves urgent attention from medical authorities before it spreads further. The virus cares not about borders, or your religion, and will spread to unvaccinated populations.

No amount of prayer will stop that nor will your prayer bring any comfort to your infected child.

Religious tolerance is OK until it starts interfering with community health | News by Thaiger

PHOTO: Jakarta Post

 

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Tim Newton has lived in Thailand since 2012. An Australian, he has worked in the media, principally radio and TV, for 41 years. He has won the Deutsche Welle Award for best radio talk program (public radio Australia), presented over 11,000 radio news bulletins, 3,900 in Thailand alone, hosted 950 daily TV news programs and produced 2,100 videos, TV commercials and documentaries. He also reported for CNN, Deutsche Welle TV, CBC, Australia's ABC TV and Australian radio during the 2018 Cave Rescue and other major stories in Thailand. As founder of The Thaiger in 2016, Tim is the current CEO for company, based in Bangkok.

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