This week-end saw medical students of Kerala’s medical colleges on a campaign trail. They were at the epicentre of anti vaccine campaign in the state, in the rural areas of Malappuram District.
They were at Tanalur, a place near Tirur. People here are fairly prosperous and well-educated. But they feel vaccines are bad for their kids. Here the percentage of children fully vaccinated was well under fifty percent. The families here used to close their doors at health workers who come to their homes urging them to vaccinate.
Some believe naturopath quacks when they say taking vaccines and preventing “harmless” diseases is anti nature. Others believe their political leaders who say vaccines are an imperialist conspiracy to produce sterility in the third world population. Many believe their religious scholars who tell them that Allah is giving complete protection from the womb itself and humans trying to usurp him is not only absurd but against “god”. There are also other allegations against vaccines like they are produced from pig meat and they result in paralysis and mental retardation. In several families, women who wanted their kids to be protected by vaccines had to face tough resistance from men.
Medical students were here because of a new epidemic of Diphtheria cases in the state. As of now there are around forty confirmed Diphtheria cases this year with two deaths and many more suspected cases. Most of the cases has been reported from in and around Malappuram district. Even a 65 year old woman developed the disease.
I could also participate in the inaugural function of the campaign at Tanalur. It was jointly organised by local health authorities and health activist groups. The local MLA (member of legislative assembly of the state) while inaugurating the event talked about taking legal measures in curbing anti vaccine propaganda. All local politicians were, it seemed, firmly convinced of the danger of the situation. Audience could clear several doubts about vaccines.
Medical students then split themselves into several groups and conducted small vaccine awareness meetings at several places in the area. There was good participation and people were hungry for correct information. Diphtheria scare had made them anxious and more and more people were ready to accept vaccination.
This epidemic has awakened the civil society of Kerala from its deep slumber. Let us hope there won’t be any more diphtheria deaths and the epidemic will be quickly contained by laudable efforts like this.