Member nations of the Organization of the Islamic conference (OIC) who met at Kuala Lumpur were addressed on the state of their health affairs.
Calling the public health services of most of the 56 member nations deplorable, Malaysia's Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said seven of the 10 nations with the highest rate of infant mortality in the world, were Muslim states.
While speaking at an inaugural meeting of various OIC health ministers, Badawi was quoted: "The state of public health in Muslim countries is already a tragedy.
"It is a tragedy because there is so much we can do to prevent needless death and suffering." Badawi added that millions of infants and children in Muslim nations were vulnerable to diseases such as polio and malaria.
The two-day meeting is set to map out a common plan to face a possible influenza pandemic, fight polio and malaria and for the joint production of vaccines.
Three leading OIC states (Indonesia, Egypt and Turkey) have been badly affected by bird flu. World health Organization data shows that there have been 190 deaths globally from the H5N1 bird flu virus since late 2003. Indonesia has recorded 79 human deaths from bird flu, the world's highest, Egypt 15 and Turkey four.
The OIC nations, which range from the wealthy oil-rich Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to Somalia and Afghanistan, have 1.3 billion people.
Abdullah, who has chaired the OIC since 2003, said although diseases such as polio had long been wiped out in Western countries, they continued to threaten Muslim nations.
He said the problem was caused by lack of funding, lack of vaccine production among OIC member states and concerns over the acceptability and quality of vaccines.
"We have much to do as many of the world's Muslims live in conditions that expose them to the most virulent, yet most preventable, infections."
OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu told the meeting that richer member states such as Malaysia, Iran and the United Arab Emirates have pledged $9 million to help fight polio and malaria in Sudan, Senegal and Yemen.
He said Pakistan and Iran had also made progress in advanced research into drugs and vaccines. A donors' conference convened this week by the OlC in Doha, Qatar, pledged more than $360 million to Niger to help fight malnutrition.
One of the most feasible areas of collaboration is in halal vaccine production, said Badawi, adding that Malaysia has taken the lead in this regard by establishing the national institute as an agency in promoting self-sufficiency in the production of these vaccines.
"We believe the development of halal vaccines would break new ground for promoting public health in Islamic nations," he said. With quality and safe halal vaccines being developed, Muslim communities would be more empowered to ensure their children are vaccinated, and fears of contamination and side effects would be eased.
Bearing the theme "Health _ the impetus towards Islamic solidarity" the international symposium is attended by health ministers and officials from the 56 countries under the OIC. Also participating are relevant international bodies such as the World Health Organization, Unicef, CDC-US and other OIC agencies.
The conference, which began June 12 and ends today (June 15), discussed a range of health-related issues of global concern, such as international health regulation, tobacco addiction, women and children's' health, preparation for the Hajj season and preparedness for a pandemic influenza outbreak, among other things.