The chief of the Public Attorney’s Office, Persida Acosta, says she is not a mosquito that brings the dreaded dengue, so she must not be blamed for the epidemic.
The statement would be hilarious if it didn’t have a profound impact on the health of millions of Filipinos now threatened by the disease.
The Aquino administration entered into a P3.5-billion deal with the manufacturer, Sanofi, which later on said recipients of the vaccine could still be at risk if they have not had a previous exposure to dengue. But now a doctors’ group has issued a statement calling for the lifting of the ban on Dengvaxia amid the soaring number of dengue cases.
Another doctors’ group has rejected the use of the vaccine as a way to deal with the current epidemic.
Because it’s the rainy season, and the number of dengue cases—and resulting deaths—have been unprecedented, accusations and counter-accusations involving Acosta, her agency, the Department of Health and those facing charges in the Dengvaxia scare take on an even greater significance.
Earlier this month, a group of unnamed lawyers from the PAO asked the Office of the Ombudsman to look into Acosta’s move to purchase of office supplies and obtain extra funds, supposedly for the Dengvaxia cases. Other lawyers in the agency have expressed support for Acosta, though, who claims the letter is “fake news” meant to taint her good name. Also tagged in the complaint is Erwin Erfe, her so-called forensics expert.
Acosta and Erfe are also accused of pursuing patients who have supposedly gotten sick because of the vaccine.
In her zeal, Acosta has been accused of fanning a scare among parents who have since refused to have their children vaccinated against other diseases. Several months ago, there was a spike in measles cases attributed to much lower vaccination rates among children.
Hysterics, fear-mongering and sound bytes do little to assuage people’s doubts or empower them to seek the right information to protect their families. There are numerous other ways to prevent the disease even as we wait for a definitive, science-based decision on how safe the vaccine is. Heaping blame on others and forcing outcomes just to build an argument will not prevent dengue—any disease, for that matter—from claiming children’s lives.
Agencies of the government must not take positions against each other because they have the same mandate—serve the people—under whatever administration.
Finally, while all tasks are important, some are more urgent than others. The cases have been filed and will be given due course. These days, it is crucial to beef up the information drive for prevention, and provide adequate support for treatment of patients who are already sick.