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Child Health Key Focus Among Muslim Nations

Muslim nations will focus on key areas of child health and vaccine production to eliminate preventable diseases, senior health officials were expected to announce Friday in Malaysia. Health ministers from the 57-member Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) have gathered here for a three-day conference since Tuesday to tackle issues including polio vaccination, bird flu prevention and other infectious diseases plaguing Muslim nations. In a draft declaration obtained by AFP, health officials and experts urged Muslim states to develop and produce its own vaccines to ensure reliable supply and safety. Officials also called on religious leaders to take responsibility to promote polio vaccination among poor and marginalised Muslim populations.

'(We) hereby strongly affirm that polio eradication is an urgent priority for all OIC member states,' the draft statement said. Polio, a preventable disease, has remained endemic in four countries, three of which are OIC members.

Although the OIC has widely approved child vaccines as halal and safe, hardline Islamic leaders have argued that western-made vaccines may contain alcohol or be contaminated by non-halal sources. Under the concept of halal, pork and its by-products, alcohol and animals not slaughtered according to Koranic procedures are all 'haram', or forbidden under Islam.

'The conference ... calls on OIC member states to take concerted actions to disseminate accurate, reliable and trusted information to (Muslims), emphasizing the fact that all polio vaccines are halal and should be administered and accepted without fear or doubt,' the statement said. Vaccination is key to reducing infant mortality, a major issue for OIC countries, which account for 11 of the 16 highest rates of death in children under five in the world, conference organisers said.

The meeting also called on OIC countries to establish national avian influenza preparedness plans and urged memb ers to share resources and ensure poorer Muslim countries receive vaccines and antiviral drugs.

Indonesia is the worst hit from the deadly H5N1 virus, recording 80 deaths so far since bird flu broke out two years ago in all but two of its 33 provinces. The declaration will be adopted at the end of the conference, expected later Friday. Members of the OIC include nations from Africa, Asia and the Middle East.


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