Tuesday, May 31, 2005

BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Indonesia starts anti-polio blitz

For more informations surrounding the vaccine controvesy, click here for a wekipedia entry.

The sad thing is that the World Health Organisation was so very close to eradicating it, especially in Africa. Unfortunately, certain misconceptions came up on whether the oral polio vaccine was in fact haram or halal (permitted), the result of which saw a dip in the vaccination of children allowing a resurrence it seems of the disease.

Now, there's only two thing I want to add/elaborate on to the Wekipedia article above.

1. The thing about vaccinations is that it works not simply on the basis of the individual but that of the herd i.e. the so called 'herd immunity'. As such, it's not actually irrational for a person or a parent to not want vaccination IF the population has about 80% (although some argue this needs to be much higher and 80% is actually close to breaking point) of its members immune from the disease. It effectively prevents any possible outbreak from happening. The problem is that where you're talking about isolated populations like that in certain African nations and rural Indonesia then, it really doesn't matter that the whole of Jakarta is vaccinated when your immediate neighbours are not.

2. There is fundamentally a distinction that needs to be drawn between the developed and developing world. And that is that the developed world essentially has the luxury to choose whether they need vaccination. In the developing world, particular those without access to sanitation and clean water, it really is a bo-brainer choice.

Anyway, one could very easily wonder what the whole fuss is about. After all most of us are vaccinated and it wouldn't pose any particular threat to us. But I think it would be awfully tragic if we did not attempt to prevent what is a very horrible disease that affects children and essentially robs them of their future. After all, we're not talking about the richer developed or developing world here. We're talking generally about the rural poor who really don't need additional problems heaped on them.

The only silver lining that I can see from this entire mess is that there might be something good coming from it, particular that of political will. The Indonesian government I feel has shown remarkable speed and will in launching a very ambitious programme. And it is especially heartening in the aftermath of Nigeria where it took a massive rise in the number of cases in polio before political and religious leaders (issuing of fatwas that said that oral polio was halal) actually did something to halt the epidemic.

More importantly, I think this was awoken the WHO and the rest of the world to the importance not simply of vaccines but more importantly the necessity of implementation and its adjunct problems i.e. getting your message across. So hopefully, the next time there's a scare about vaccinations governmental agencies would be much better able to respond to it.

After all, we've had some problems here at home where certain parents have responded (or overreacted) to certain fears regarding vaccines. In particular the link between Autism and the MMR (Mumps, Measles and Rubella) vaccine as well as the mercury in vaccine bit. Now, the fear is particularly unwarrented and the link (especially for the autism one) has been questioned ever since that particular report was published. As for the mercury, considering the minute portions worry more about the next char kway teow (or burger) you eat than the vaccine. But seen in the light of herd immunity and the perception that such things could never happen here makes their decision to withdraw their child from the vaccination seem almost rational.

So any plan to combat this fear must necesarily consist of the following three things.

1. Good science. Alot of these fears are pretty much due to junk science if you're feeling uncharitable or 'the desk-drawer syndrome' if you are. Basically, science journals aren't interested in publishing an article that finds NO links between A and B or C or D and these get thrown into the desk drawer. So very likely there could have been 30 other papers finding no links but all you need is ONE paper to make it into public consciousness and you've got a problem.

2. Balancing of risk. Yes those side effects are really pesky, but we are talking about an immunity from a much nastier outcome after all.

We cannot keep assuming that we will be safe. The globalisation of the world and in particular jet travel means that very likely a pandemic (cross border as opposed to a localised one a.k.a epidemic) is a matter of when not if. Case in point, Avian Flu.

3. Civic duty. I know this sounds a little corny but think of it as a duty for the betterment of the world. If sufficient people don't do it for the wrong reasons then you effectively put everyone else and not just you or your kid at risk.

*Mr Fluffy has stopped bothering the author when he blogs nowadays. Mr Fluffy is busy with his corronation as well as the invitations he's sending to the world leaders to attend his ascension to the throne. He's betting on the fact that by playing the terrorism card and acting as a stabilising influence in the region (and deposing a nasty dictator while he was at it), he should be able to garner the support of the major nations. That and the various natural resources falling within his economic zones...=P*



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