By Rob L. Wagner
16 October 2016
Jeddah – The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is developing an ambitious plan to establish a multinational company to produce vaccines and pharmaceuticals for countries with predominately Muslim populations. The OIC plans to include manufacturing and agribusiness to create jobs.
“It’s the first project of its kind for the OIC,” OIC spokeswoman Maha Alqeel said. “OIC members are affected the most by polio and malaria and this is just a matter of making those countries self-sufficient in producing vaccines.”
Hameed Opeloyeru, assistant secretary-general for economic affairs for the OIC, announced the vaccine plan during a recent visit to Riyadh. He said the project was part of consultations with the 57 members of the OIC to determine “how to pool resources to produce vaccines”.
Alqeel said the project remained “on the table” and was moving forward with the assistance of OIC members.
In a separate action in July, the Islamic Advisory Group for Polio Eradication adopted a plan to make a final push to stop the spread of polio in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The OIC is a core member of the group.
The OIC would act as a facilitator to bring together private companies to produce vaccines and other pharmaceutical products to encourage use in countries, such as in Nigeria, Indonesia, Pakistan and Afghanistan, that experience infectious diseases.
The biggest challenge for the OIC is to facilitate producing and distributing vaccines in rural areas where immunisation is viewed with suspicion. According to the Foreign Policy Group, polio thrives in conflict zones and countries experiencing political turmoil.
Fewer than 100 cases of polio were reported globally in 2015 but Afghanistan and Pakistan are the only two countries where polio remains endemic, according to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, which monitors the disease.
Pakistan has seen a 64% reduction in polio cases this year compared to the same period in 2015 but the regions of the Khyber-Peshawar corridor and Karachi and Quetta are particularly troublesome in health authorities’ efforts to eradicate the disease. Although the percentage of Pakistani families refusing polio immunisation for their children is small — about 2% — there are more than 35 million children in the country who need to be immunised.
The Global Islamic Advisory Group, which is headed by the grand imam of the Holy Mosque of Mecca, issued a statement in February 2014 saying that “protection against diseases is obligatory and admissible under Islamic sharia”. The group ruled it is un-Islamic and a threat to humanity to fail to support preventative measures.
To reinforce the message, more than 2,000 religious leaders have been recruited to issue statements on the necessity and safety of the vaccines and to dispel misconceptions about the dangers. Imams routinely have councils in rural areas to provide advice and address any religious concerns.
“We are encouraging acceptance of the vaccines,” Opeloyeru said. “We would use Islamic academics to talk to families to make sure these vaccines are accepted. We just want to encourage the immunisations in view of the experiences we have had.”
Opeloyeru emphasised the only role the OIC would play is gathering private companies to unite in the common goal of vaccine and pharmaceutical production. The OIC is to play no role in oversight, direction of production nor distribution.
The OIC hopes that by establishing pharmaceutical manufacturing in OIC member countries, vaccines will become more readily available, cheaper to produce and ultimately accepted in the more conservative regions of Muslim countries.
Opeloyeru, speaking at the trade fair, said the project will promote investment among OIC members that is expected to generate jobs in economically disadvantaged areas. It will also promote competition among Muslim and non-Muslim countries, he said.
The key, he said, to committing the OIC to establishing a multinational company as well as increasing intra-OIC trade volume was to boost public-private partnerships.
Opeloyeru said: “The contribution of the private sector in our current efforts to change the current mono-cultural structure of the OIC economies and dependence… on primary exports is very considerable. In this regard, the advocacy role of the private sector is crucial.”