The Jakarta Post
The two largest countries in Southeast Asia are left behind in the battle against measles, as misconceptions hamper vaccination efforts.
According to the Southeast Asia Regional Office of the World Health Organization (WHO SEARO) 3.1 million one-year-old children in India and 1.1 million in Indonesia did not get measles vaccination in 2016. Together they account for 91 percent of unvaccinated children in the region.
Health officials have expressed concern about the situation, since measles still kills an estimated 134,200 children worldwide every year, which includes more than 54,500 in Southeast Asia.
“There is no global goal or big fund to eradicate measles, so countries should allocate funds for it, especially India and Indonesia, where the largest numbers of unimmunized children reside,” said Pem Namgyal, the WHO SEARO director of family health, gender and life course, on the sidelines of the office’s 70th regional committee meeting.
He said the two countries were still far behind the Maldives and Bhutan, which have been declared free of measles.
India and Indonesia, home to 1.3 billion and 261 million people, respectively, are the region’s most-populous countries.
One of the largest misconceptions about the measles vaccination, usually called MMR or MR vaccines, is that it can cause autism. In a predominantly Muslim country like Indonesia, there is also resistance due to the widespread view that the vaccine contains pork gelatine, which is forbidden in Islam.
Namgyal dismissed all the misconceptions, explaining that the vaccine was harmless.