A day after declaring a measles outbreak in Metro Manila, the Health department on Thursday expanded the scope of its alert to other regions of Luzon and Central and Eastern Visayas, as the disease claimed at least 24 lives last month.
Most of the dead are children and the toll is expected to rise as more cases are confirmed of the highly contagious disease, which has made a worldwide resurgence in recent years.
Health Secretary Franciso Duque III advised the public to bring their children to the nearest health facility for treatment at the first sign of fever. He also told them to go to health centers and get vaccinated.
READ: DOH looks into suspected Sarangani measles outbreak
On Wednesday, the DOH declared a measles outbreak in Metro Manila following a 550-percent increase in patients contracting the virus from Jan. 1 to Feb. 6 this year, compared with the same period last year.
Duque said a total of 861 suspected measles cases have been reported to the DOH as of Feb.2.
As of Jan. 26, 2019, Duque said the DOH epidemiology bureau reported that the number of measles cases in other regions, namely—Ilocos region, Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon, Calabarzon, Mimaropa, and Bicol Regions have shown an increasing trend as well.
“We are expanding the outbreak from Metro Manila to the other regions as cases have increased in the past weeks and to strengthen surveillance of new cases and alert mothers and caregivers to be more vigilant,” Duque said.
READ: ‘Measles under control’
In San Lazaro Hospital alone, at least 248 children and 21 adults are being treated for measles, according to its spokesperson. On Monday, seven deaths were recorded, while last week, nine children died within a single day.
Health department records showed there were 525 cases with nine deaths in Calabarzon (Region IV-A); 441 cases with four deaths in Metro Manila; 192 cases with four deaths in Central Luzon (Region III); 104 cases and three deaths in Western Visayas (Region VI); and 71 cases with one death in Central Visayas (Region VII).
The same report indicated 70 cases with no deaths in Mimaropa (Region IV-B); 64 cases with two deaths in the Ilocos Region (Region I); 60 cases with no deaths in Northern Mindanao (Region X); 54 cases with one death in Western Visayas (Region VIII); and 43 cases with no deaths in Soccsksargen (Region XII.)
Measles killed 30 in the first eight months of last year, and five in all of 2017.
READ: 22 die in suspected measles outbreak
The Health department said 90 percent of those infected with measles had not been vaccinated.
Authorities said vaccination rates in the Philippines have been declining for years, but also pointed to the recent controversy over the safety of the Dengvaxia dengue vaccine.
“The measles vaccination coverage has been in decline in the last five years,” Health Undersecretary Eric Domingo told a press conference Thursday.
“In the recent years, it was the issue of Dengvaxia vaccine that contributed,” he added, as the government pushed parents to get children vaccinated.
The scare started in late 2017, shortly after the government, then under President Benigno Aquino III, gave Dengvaxia to some 837,000 students as part of a public immunization campaign.
The vaccine’s maker, Sanofi, set off a panic when it said a new analysis showed Dengvaxia could lead to more severe symptoms for people who had not previously been infected with dengue.
The government halted the campaign and left hundreds of thousands of terrified parents wondering if their children were at risk.
The World Health Organization in November 2018 warned that measles cases globally had jumped more than 30 percent in 2017 compared to the previous year, in part because of children not being vaccinated.
Duque said outbreak areas should boost preventive measures against the disease.
“Supportive measures like building the nutritional status of the sick person and increasing oral rehydration are important measures to increase body resistance and replace lost body fluids caused by coughing, diarrhea, and perspiration,” Duque said.
Senators JV Ejercito and Nancy Binay urged parents to have their children vaccinated against infectious diseases in the wake of the measles outbreak.
Ejercito, chairman of the Senate committee on health and demography, stressed the importance of vaccines—administered free in barangay health centers—to prevent the spread of communicable diseases.
“Children and pregnant women who remain unvaccinated are the most prone and are really at the highest risk of acquiring measles… this could result in long-term complications, and even worse, death,” Ejercito said.
Measles is an airborne disease that infects the respiratory tract, and its complications include severe diarrhea, pneumonia, blindness, and even death.
The Health department said the Philippines saw a four-fold jump in measles cases from 4,000 cases in 2017 to 21,000 cases last year.
An opinion poll in November 2018 showed a sharp drop in the trust in vaccines among Filipinos, with only 32 percent of 1,500 surveyed Filipinos trusting vaccines, down from 93 percent in 2015.
President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the Department of Health to launch a “vigorous” campaign to promote vaccination following the declaration of a measles outbreak.
“You know, the President is always affected by any negative outcome that relates to children. He was saddened, so he said it should be addressed immediately,” Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said.
“The [Health] secretary was saying that some of our people are reluctant to undergo immunization by reason of the Dengvaxia scandal. They were scared,” Panelo said.
The DOH secretary earlier blamed Public Attorney’s Office chief Persida Rueda-Acosta for the rise of measles cases, saying her remarks on the anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia have caused “serious damage” to Filipinos’ trust in government-issued vaccines.
Duque said Acosta’s “baseless claims and accusations” have led to the “decline in vaccine confidence and a rise in cases of measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases.”
But the PAO chief said it was the DOH’s duty to spread vaccine awareness.
The two government officials have long been at odds over the Dengvaxia controversy.
But Panelo said the PAO chief, as a lawyer, was merely looking out for her clients.
“I cannot be blaming her for that,” he said.
“As far as she is concerned, she is doing her job of protecting the parents of the [children who] she perceived to be dying by reason of Dengvaxia.”
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra also came to the defense of Acosta, saying she was just doing her job helping the families of children who died supposedly after being inoculated with the controversial anti-dengue vaccine, Dengvaxia.
The party-list group Anakalusugan supported the call for an intensified campaign to promote vaccination of children.
“While it is the primary duty of parents to protect their children’s health, the government, through the Department of Health, should not be complacent in promoting complete immunization. They should have already seen the trend last year,” the group said. With Nat Mariano, Rey E. Requejo, AFP, and PNAREAD: WHO lists 10 health issues to watch out for in 2019
COMMENT DISCLAIMER: Reader comments posted on this Web site are not in any way endorsed by Manila Standard. Comments are views by manilastandard.net readers who exercise their right to free expression and they do not necessarily represent or reflect the position or viewpoint of manilastandard.net. While reserving this publication’s right to delete comments that are deemed offensive, indecent or inconsistent with Manila Standard editorial standards, Manila Standard may not be held liable for any false information posted by readers in this comments section.