The problem of producing life-saving vaccines for children which are permissible under Islam was a key topic for health experts in talks here Tuesday ahead of an inaugural health conference for OIC nations.
Senior health officials from the Organisation of the Islamic Conference's 57 member nations, along with the UN and other international agencies, met to tackle issues including polio vaccination, preparedness for bird flu outbreaks and outbreaks of other infectious diseases. The meetings are part of preparations for the OIC's first health ministers' conference, which is hosted by OIC chair Malaysia and will be officially launched on Thursday south of Kuala Lumpur.
The inaugural meeting comes as OIC countries try to become self-reliant in developing and producing vaccines deemed "halal", or permissible under Islam, a topic expected to be a major focus of the conference. Under the concept of halal, pork and its by-products, alcohol and animals not slaughtered according to Koranic procedures are all "haram", or forbidden. Vaccinations are seen as key to reducing infant mortality rates, a major issue for OIC countries, which account for 11 of the 16 highest rates of mortality in children under five in the world, according to conference organisers.
"The epicentre of the global crisis is in sub-Saharan Africa, where the under-five mortality rate is more than twice the world average," the OIC ministers said in a statement ahead of the event. "These high mortality rates, largely due to vaccine-preventable diseases and exacerbated by HIV/AIDS and armed conflict, result in a child born in sub-Saharan Africa with a life expectancy of only 46 years," they said.
Malaysia's Health Minister Chua Soi Lek, in an interview with the state Bernama news agency released late Monday, said halal vaccines were sorely needed to prevent infant mortality in Muslim countries. "The halal issue is one reason why the polio vaccine is not acceptable in OIC countries and this contributes to the high mortality rate among children of five years of age and below," he was quoted as saying ahead of the conference.
The OIC health ministers are expected to issue a declaration at the close of the conference on Friday. Members of the OIC include nations from Africa, Asia and the Middle East.