More than 130 dead in measles outbreak blamed on Philippine anti-vax movement

21-Feb-2019 Intellasia | The Telegraph | 6:00 AM Print This Post

More than 130 people, mainly children, have died and 8,443 others have fallen ill in the Philippines during a measles outbreak that has been largely blamed on nationwide fears about vaccinations.

A total of 136 people, about half of them aged between one and four, have died since the beginning of the year, and health officials say infection rates are still on an upward trend despite a mass immunisation drive that began last week.

In a prescient warning, health chiefs had predicted last year that the Southeast Asia nation would be vulnerable to deadly epidemics after a scandal involving a dengue vaccine programme for schoolchildren prompted an “anti-vax” backlash.

In 2016, the Philippine authorities proceeded with the vaccination of more than 800,000 children using the new drug Dengvaxia, to protect them from the potentially fatal mosquito-borne disease.

However, in 2017, the drug’s French manufacturer, Sanofi, released new data that showed children who had never had the virus were more likely to be hospitalised by the disease if they contracted it after the vaccine.

Public trust in vaccines plummeted sharply as a result of the ensuing political controversy, a factor considered to be one of the main reasons for the current crisis.

The latest health scare has prompted an intense public information campaign that appears to be bucking the anti-vax trend, with 130,000 people receiving an inoculation last week.

But Francisco Duque III, the country’s health minister, has warned that the outbreak may not be under control until the end of April or the start of May.

In January, infections rose by more than 1,000 per cent compared with last year’s figures in metropolitan Manila, which has a population of some 12 million people.

“No ifs, no buts, no conditions, you just have to bring your children and trust that the vaccines… will save your children,” Duque urged parents in an interview with the Associated Press. “That’s the absolute answer to this outbreak.”

Last Friday, Rodrigo Duterte, the Philipppine president, also warned the population that measles could be fatal and urged parents to immunise their children.

In an interview with The Telegraph, Richard Gordon, a senator and chair of the Philippine Red Cross, called the growing crisis a “wake-up call,” confirming that similar outbreaks had not been seen in recent years.

In 2018, 21,800 cases of measles were recorded for the whole year, while the total death toll of 202 had almost been matched in the first two months of 2019, he said.

“We are seeing numbers go up. In fact, the numbers are really wildly up but we are watching it and we are reacting to it. Since 2011, the Red Cross has participated in vaccinations. But this time we are going to go full force.”

An estimated 10 million children, mostly aged between six months and five years, would need to be inoculated, he said, adding: “it will take at least three months.”

“What is important is to get the people to trust the vaccination system, the vaccination cocktail that is given to all of our children every year,” Gordon added. “Mercifully, attitudes are changing.”

In an interview with the Rappler news site, Wilda Silva, the national immunisation programme manager, cited the failure of inoculation drives to keep up with the pace of population growth as another contributing factor to the rising number of unvaccinated children.

According to data from the department of health’s epidemiology bureau, in the 8,443 current cases, 6 out of 10 individuals or 64 per cent were found to have not had the measles vaccine.

Measles is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus which can be spread through sneezing or coughing. It can cause diarrhoea, pneumonia and encephalitisor the swelling of the brainwhich may be fatal.


Category: Philippines

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