SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Medical experts warned Friday the anti-vaccination lobby is growing in Bosnia, using scientifically discredited arguments to stoke parental fears in the worst-affected country in Europe's measles outbreak.
This trend — combined with a generation that could not be immunized because of lack of vaccines during Bosnia's 1992-95 war — has led to 5,340 measles cases in Bosnia, according to the World Health Organization.
"I am increasingly hearing from parents about their fears due to the stuff they read on the Internet," Dr. Gordana Banduka, a pediatrician from Pale, near Sarajevo, told The Associated Press.
Bosnia's immunization rate has fallen to just 87 percent, chief epidemiologist Jelena Ravlija said, below the 95 percent rate needed to prevent outbreaks.
She said the risk of side effects is far lower than the likelihood of complications from the mumps or measles. In developed countries, measles kills about 1 in 1,000 infected people.
Jagoda Savic, head of an anti-vaccination lobbying group, said her group has found 119 cases of vaccine complications that parents claim left children permanently disabled, although doctors say most of those diseases aren't related to vaccinations.
"The bottom line is that parents do not trust Bosnia's health system, which is one of the worst in Europe. It has previously misled people regarding basic immunological facts considering vaccines," she said.
Muhidin Cosovic of Sarajevo refuses to immunize his 6-year-old daughter Leila against any diseases, including measles, since he believes a common vaccine against illnesses including diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough is to blame for his 8-year-old son's encephalopathy. The link has never been proven, but claims like his are prompting other parents not to vaccinate their children.
"I lost the battle to prove that my son's illness was caused by the vaccine, but I haven't lost the right to publicly say it," Cosovic said.