Exploring the Opportunity For Halal In Healthcare

Rachel Howard, associate director, Research Partnership
Rachel Howard, associate director, Research Partnership

As pork is forbidden by Islam, the use of pork-based gelatin in many vaccines has resulted in considerable resistance to vaccination among the Islamic community. Data has demonstrated a decrease in immunization rates in majority Muslim countries such as Nigeria and Pakistan, where leaders and clerics have made complex claims against vaccines. A 2012 survey of parents in an Islamic primary school in Australia found that over 40% did not feel they knew enough about vaccines to make informed decisions, with over 70% expressing a desire for further information to reduce the uncertainty.

This confusion and uncertainty is ongoing in spite of leading Muslim scholars stating, in consultation with the World Health Organization, that the gelatin used in vaccines should be considered halal – and thus that there is no religious reason for Muslims to refuse vaccination. Refusal of vaccines, and the anti-vaccine movement in general, pose a major public health challenge resulting in the loss of protection from herd immunity. Consequences can be fatal.

In an attempt to ease doubts and encourage greater uptake of vaccines among the Muslim population, a number of halal-certified vaccines are currently in development. Vaccines may be acceptable to many Muslims in the current context, where there are no alternatives. However, if there is a choice between halal and non-halal products, Muslims must choose the halal option.

It goes without saying that the creation of halal vaccines potentially opens up a very lucrative market. The managing director of AJ Pharma Holding, a Saudi Arabian-owned and Malaysia-based pharmaceutical company developing a number of halal vaccines, believes the global halal vaccine market could be worth approximately $1.1 billion by 2030, given the growing affluence of the Muslim consumer base.

There are 1.8 billion Muslims around the world, constituting 25% of the global population; Muslims are the single largest religious group worldwide. Key markets include Indonesia, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh – as well as the smaller but more affluent Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. Hajj also creates a large market, as Saudi Arabia requires a certificate of meningitis vaccination from each of the millions of pilgrims travelling to Mecca every year.

For today's major vaccine players, halal poses some important business questions. How will halal vaccines impact their sales? What degree of threat do they pose to their business model? To what extent is it worth considering development of their own halal vaccines in order to gain a stronger foothold in the increasingly important and lucrative Muslim market?

There might also be opportunity for halal vaccines beyond the Muslim population, as is increasingly the case with halal foods. The halal food segment – already worth approximately $700 billion globally and one of the few food product categories experiencing fast growth – is surging rapidly among non-Muslims and in non-Muslim majority markets. For example, in Moscow, sales in halal stores grew by $25 million between 2004 and 2006.

The halal skincare and cosmetics market is experiencing similar growth, with the co-founder of Indian halal beauty brand Iba suggesting that 50% of its consumers are non-Muslims. Interest among this segment is continuing to increase at a fast rate due to overlap in values with the vegan and ethical beauty markets (in terms of their shared emphasis on cruelty-free manufacturing processes). Companies such as Al Islami foods, a Dubai-based halal food manufacturer, cite the marketing of halal foods to non-Muslims as one of its key growth strategies. As the halal concept emphasizes quality, safety and hygiene, these values might also have a broader appeal in the context of vaccines and in healthcare more broadly.

Interestingly, within healthcare the desire for halal products is not restricted to vaccines. There is also demand for halal surgical sutures and plasma-derived products, and even pharmaceutical products themselves.

Capturing this growing market is not without challenges. For example, there is not yet a universal standard to define good manufacturing practice for halal medical products. While the Halal Food Standard sets out clear parameters for food products, its guidelines are not sufficiently nuanced to be easily transferable or applicable to healthcare and the pharmaceutical sector.

Perhaps even more importantly, such products may be more expensive than their non-halal counterparts – which raises a number of ethical and access issues in cases where healthcare products are publicly funded. Awareness and demand for halal products is also not uniform across Muslim and Muslim-majority countries. For example, awareness and education are higher and regulatory guidelines are stricter in the ASEAN countries of Indonesia and Malaysia compared to Pakistan. 

Halal in healthcare is undoubtedly in its infancy, and it remains to be seen how the market will evolve. There is an immediate need for greater education regarding halal and vaccines for Muslim consumers worldwide. Developing communication materials targeted specifically to Muslims may constitute an important first step in ensuring informed-decision making and a defense against rejection of currently available vaccines. Indeed, as Muslim markets become an increasingly important source of revenue for global pharmaceutical/vaccines companies and competitors race to develop “true” halal alternatives to established products, halal certification is an area that should be on everyone's radar.

Rachel Howard is an Associate Director at the Research Partnership


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