Health authorities in Jakarta have started a special immunisation programme to control an "extraordinary" outbreak of diphtheria, which could have serious consequences for next year's Asian Games in the Indonesian capital.
Health officials revealed diphtheria cases have increased by 42 per cent since last year and that 590 cases of the bacterial infection have been recorded across Indonesia, resulting in 32 deaths.
The bulk of cases have been recorded in Jakarta, which is set to host the Asian Games next year, along with Palembang, the capital of South Sumatra Province.
The city finds itself in a similar situation to Rio de Janeiro before the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games when Brazil had worries about the Zika virus.
Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan expressed her worry at the situation.
"If we have an extraordinary event like this [diphtheria outbreak], it might mean the Asian Games would not be a success and that could become a burden for us in the Health Department," she said.
Monday’s immunisation programme, which will be rolled out in other provinces in the coming weeks, has seen mothers take their children to receive free vaccinations at a clinic in West Jakarta
Experts say that the immunisation programme was necessary and well-timed as the diphtheria outbreak could spread uncontrollably in an event like the Asian Games, which could see thousands of people congregate in one relatively small area.
Diphtheria causes a thick covering in the back of the throat and can lead to difficulty breathing, heart failure, paralysis and even death.
“Events that have mass gatherings make it easy for the disease to spread, so it is important now to provide as much [immunization] coverage as possible," Dr Vinod Bura, acting representative of the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Jakarta said.
Health Minister Nila Moeloek warned that the disease could still spread rapidly as some people lack access to healthcare whilst others believe that vaccinations do not work.
"We must emphasise that this [vaccination] is beneficial," Moeloek said.
"f the benefits outweigh the disadvantages, this is a necessity."
Rates of diphtheria in Indonesia are among the world’s highest, along with India and several African countries.
Worldwide rates are down considerably across the rest of the world with the WHO recording 7,000 cases of diphtheria last year, compared to 100,000 in 1980.
The 2018 Asian Games are scheduled to take place from August 18 to September 2.