Thiruvananthapuram: Two teenagers have died and 20 cases of suspected diphtheria have surfaced over the last 40 days in Kerala's Malappuram district - the highest-ever in the state's history. The outbreak has been so virulent that special public appeals were made during Friday prayers at 30 local mosques, asking people to ensure that they get immunized.
A Muslim dominated area, Malappuram has witnessed strong anti-vaccination propaganda in the past. Rumours had once been spread that these measures are part of population control.
According to government data, an estimated 1.2 lakh students are either not immunised or partially immunised in Malappuram.
"In past, there have been negative propaganda due to ignorance, and people are still scared," said Shafi Faizi Ekkaparamba, a cleric at one of the mosques. "We are trying to combat that perception by sensitising the people to the importance of vaccination," he added.
Preventive vaccinations have been undertaken in the area.
"Over the last one week, 2,500 people have been immunised in Pallikal panchayat," said Dr Surayia E. "Earlier, people would not come forward for immunization, but now, the fear of vaccinations has been replaced by fear of diphtheria. So a lot of people are coming forward."
"I am daily wage labourer and must have missed out on vaccinating my son," a relative of a patient at Kozhikode Medical College told NDTV. "There are people who said that these vaccinations cause health problems."
Father of a 16-year-old, he has been shuttling between his home and hospital, where his son has been hospitalised for suspected diphtheria.