Along with the Dengvaxia controversy in the Philippines, the number of deaths from measles has quadrupled over the past 7 months despite the prevention that Department of Health (DOH) has held.
According to records from the DOH, 80% of the deaths in the first half of the year are due to measles — children aged 1 to 4 years old and even infants below 9 months.
Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, and Quezon) are among the provinces that had the highest cases of the disease with 7,213 as of July 13, which is a 1,000% increase from 632 cases in the same period last year. The biggest number of fatalities was also recorded with 123 cases from just six in 2018, an increase of close to 2,000%.
Other regions that have high incidence of measles were Metro Manila with 6,969 cases and 114 deaths, Central Luzon – 6,350 cases and 115 deaths, Western Visayas – 2,379 cases and eight deaths, and Northern Mindanao – 2,118 cases and 16 deaths.
The figures made the Philippines rank as the third highest incidence of measles, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). In over 12-month period until June 2019, the country has 45, 847 cases. Madagascar was first in the ranking with more than 150,000 cases and Ukraine in the second spot with more than 84, 300 cases.
Lack of vaccination
WHO noted that in just the first half of the year, the recent reported cases worldwide were the highest since 2006. It said that straining health care systems has led to serious illness, disability, and deaths.
“Major outbreaks are ongoing in Angola, Cameroon, Chad, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, the Philippines, South Sudan, Sudan and Thailand,” it reported.
The United Nations agency said the low coverage of measles vaccination is the reason of having the largest number of outbreaks in countries.
“When enough people who are not immuned are exposed to measles, it can very quickly spread,” the WHO said.
It also mentioned, however, that the low vaccination coverage resulted from lack of access to quality health care or vaccination services, misinformation, and the low awareness about the necessity of the vaccine.
The WHO noted that the prevention will be in effect if the coverage in a community is at 95%.
Decline of public immunization due to Dengvaxia
According to the DOH, Filipinos decline the immunization due to the nation’s fear of vaccines, following the controversy regarding the use of anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia. Immunization rate dropped to only 40% this early 2019.
Public Attorney’s Office’s (PAO) argument further complicated the situation as it claimed that the deaths of the children were because of the Dengvaxia vaccination they had, which medical experts opposed.
Meanwhile, Health Sec. Francisco Duque III in April said that the spread of the disease was “under control.” Contrary to its denial of an outbreak declaration to prevent the public from slipping to complacency, the number of cases has still increased.
Duque noted that the DOH’s goal then was to reach the 95% coverage rate in the country. Their efforts seemed to have paid off as the reports from July 7-13 showed only 175 cases, a 47% drop from the same period last year, according to Epidemiology Bureau’s latest monitoring.
The WHO reminded parents to monitor their children’s vaccinations — make sure it’s up-to-date and they have received two doses to be totally protected from the disease.
On the other hand, Sanofi Pasteur, Dengvaxia manufacturer, has created his web portal to answer queries and questions from the public regarding health and vaccines.
“All this misunderstanding, misinformation, confusion. We saw the direct impact—a drop in the vaccination coverage, and as a consequence we faced a massive measles outbreak. A lot of kids were hospitalized, died from a vaccine-preventable disease,” said Jean-Antoine Zinsou, general manager of Sanofi Pasteur Philippines.
“It’s very important to have this. Because you have to convince people of the value of vaccines. And you can only convince them when you discuss with them, address their concerns the way they understand or misunderstand a situation,” he added.