Muslim nations are aiming for self-reliance in producing "halal" life-saving vaccines to eradicate preventable diseases, officials said Thursday in Malaysia.
Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, the Malaysian prime minister and chairman of the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) called on Muslim countries to develop and produce vaccines which were halal, or permissible under Islam.
Under the concept of halal, pork and its by-products, alcohol and animals not slaughtered according to Quranic procedures are "haram", or forbidden.
"We believe that the development of halal vaccines would break new ground for promoting public health in Muslim countries," he said, adding that it would also alleviate fears among Muslim communities about contamination.
Although the OIC has widely approved child vaccines as halal and safe, hard-line Islamic activists have argued that western-made vaccines may contain alcohol or be contaminated by non-halal sources.
In 2003, concerns about the safety of the polio vaccine in Nigeria led to the re-infection of 27 countries that had become polio free, including Afghanistan and Pakistan, according to officials from the World Health Organization (WHO).
"Nineteen of those 27 countries were OIC member states," said Hamid Jafari, the WHO's regional adviser on polio.
Children in Muslim countries face the highest risk of catching infectious diseases, Abdullah told the OIC's inaugural health conference.
"Many of these children suffer diseases such as measles, malaria and respiratory infections, diseases that can largely be averted and prevented," he said.