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Islamic Edict Threatens to Derail Indonesian Immunization Efforts

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31 Aug 2018, 00:05 GMT+10


JAKARTA - As Indonesia's health ministry undertakes a huge campaign to immunize 70 million children against rubella and measles, critics say those efforts have been complicated by an edict issued by the country's top Muslim clerical body, Indonesian Ulema Council, declaring some of the vaccine's ingredients as forbidden by Islam.

While the quasi-governmental body's edict, a fatwa, did not explicitly prohibit Indonesian Muslims from using the vaccine, experts are warning it is having consequences for immunization efforts in poorer, more religiously conservative parts of the nation and its more than 18,000 islands, threatening to derail the $100 million campaign supported by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The measles-rubella (MR) vaccine that Jakarta is rolling out is produced by the Serum Institute in India, the only manufacturer capable of producing a quality vaccine in the quantity required by Indonesia, and contains materials derived from pigs, which are considered forbidden for consumption by Muslims.

Measles is a highly contagious respiratory disease which causes a rash and fever and can be deadly for babies and young children, while rubella exhibits similar symptoms and can cause death or serious birth defects for the fetus if contracted by a pregnant mother. Congenital deafness is most commonly caused by rubella during pregnancy.

FILE - An Indonesian child receives a shot of measles vaccine in Banyusoco village near Gunung Kidul, Indonesia.

The Saudi-based Islamic Advisory Group for Polio Eradication, a grouping of religious scholars, Islamic institutions, and researchers whose aim is to stamp out the disease among Muslim communities worldwide, has recommended the use of vaccines containing generally banned ingredients if there is no other form available.

"Parents (have) the sharia obligation of vaccinating their children," Abbas Shouman, undersecretary of Egypt's Al-Azhar, considered one of the world's preeminent authorities on the interpretation of Islamic law, said in 2015. His institution has spearheaded the advisory group's eradication efforts.

UNICEF officials say the MR vaccination is currently administered in 143 countries, including nearly 30 that are majority Muslim.

In Indonesia, however, the powerful Indonesian Ulema Council, known as MUI, seeks to halal-certify all products imported and made in Indonesia, including vaccines. Its latest fatwa said that while the vaccine contained elements that would be otherwise generally prohibited by Islam, the immunization was ultimately permissible for Indonesian Muslims.....



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