While the controversy surrounding the measles outbreak in the US is gobbling up press coverage and even forcing anti-vaccine groups and parents to defend and even question their conclusions, Bosnia-Herzegovina has a flourishing and highly influential anti-vaccine movement. Consequently, according to the Associated Press, the country is experiencing a measles outbreak and lead to Bosnia being ranked as Europe’s worst-affected country. Part of the reason for the outbreak is due to the country’s civil war that lasted from 1992 to 1995 in which the conflict contributed to the lack of vaccines at the time. Bosnia’s immunization rate is 87 percent, well below the 95 percent vaccination rate needed for herd immunity.
The head of one of Bosnia’s anti-vaccination groups, Jagoda Savic, is quoted as saying her organization’s findings revealed almost 120 cases of complications related to vaccinations resulting in things like disabilities. But, as doctors correctly point out, the problems Savic’s group points to aren’t related to vaccines. The AP article states the reason for the distrust is mainly due to Bosnia’s health care system which is one of Europe’s worst. As a result, distrust even of vaccines is called into question.
The United Nations or some sort of regional agency will probably have to provide vaccines in regions of Bosnia where immunization rates are low. There is one factor the AP article does not take into account, almost half of Bosnians are Muslim and the country has gone through a revival of sorts with a Wahhabist movement conducting a campaign among the country’s Muslims to embrace the ways of Mohammed.
In Nigeria, for example, a conspiracy theory is afoot alleging that the polio vaccination is part of a CIA plot to sterilize the populace. This same rumor has taken hold in Syria, Afghanistan, Kyrgystan and Pakistan which as resulted in polio outbreaks in those countries. I have no doubt the skepticism of vaccines among Bosnians is being fueled by their country’s religion in the same way it has fueled distrust of immunizations in some countries in the Middle East and Europe.
I think with time and convincing anyone (no matter if they are religious or not) can come around to changing their minds. When it comes to vaccines children are usually involved and a parent’s care of their child is of paramount importance. However, the fact that conspiracy theories furthered by Islamic groups, like the Taliban, are a factor in low immunization rates in some Middle Eastern and European countries, I am sure in the case of Bosnia Islam is a contributing factor in the country’s low immunization rates along with the fragile state of the country’s health care system.