By Mario Casayuran
Senator Richard J. Gordon, chairman of the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) on Friday called on parents to have their children inoculated with anti-measles vaccine to stem the outbreak that has already reached other regions of Luzon, Central and Eastern Visayas.
“Sa mga magulang, wag natin isawalang-bahala ang kalusugan ng ating mga anak. Pabakunahan na natin sila bago pa lumalaganap ng husto ang outbreak ng tigdas (To parents, let us not put at risk the health of our children. Let us have them vaccinated before measles becomes a full-blown problem) Let us learn from the mistakes on Dengvaxia, but let us not use that issue to disregard the vaccines in the EPI (Expanded Program on Immunization).
Vaccines included in the EPI are safe,” he said.
Gordon, who visited the measles patients confined at the San Lazaro Hospital (SLH) in Manila assured that the PRC is closely coordinating with the Department of Health (DOH) in providing assistance relevant to the surge of patients because of the measles outbreak.
He said the PRC is ready to provide medical interventions, including the establishment of a 100-bed emergency medical unit (EMU) and welfare desks at the SLH.
PRC is also ready to provide blankets and hygiene kits to uplift the dignity of the patients and parents currently staying at the hospital, he added.
“We need to work together to assist the families affected by the measles outbreak. When we visited the SLH, we saw two or three children sharing one bed with parents also sharing the space. What was usually a room for two or three patients now accommodate up to 10 children. Even hallways are now being used,” he said.
PRC is offering to put up the EMU, an outdoor hospital setup, to serve as an extension ward to address the overflow of patients.
Gordon has instructed the different chapters of PRC to conduct community mobilization to raise awareness on measles and its prevention measures after the DOH raised the red flag for measles in other regions of Luzon, Central and Eastern Visayas in addition to the National Capital Region (NCR).
Measles is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by a paramyxovirus. It is transferred from person-to-person by sneezing, coughing, and close personal contact. Its signs and symptoms include cough, runny nose, red eyes/conjunctivitis, fever, skin rashes lasting for more than three days. The disease’s complications included diarrhea, middle ear infection, pneumonia (infection of the lungs), encephalitis (swelling of the brain), malnutrition, blindness which may lead to death.
Senator Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito pressed DOH to ensure a steady supply of measles vaccines.
“I urge the Department of Health to ensure a steady and sufficient supply of measles vaccines not only for the victims, but also for the necessary mass inoculations in areas not yet affected by the outbreak in order to contain the illness from spreading further,” Ejercito said in a statement.
Vaccine is safe
Vice President Leni Robredo likewise urged parents to avail of free measles vaccine to protect their children.
The disease already claimed the lives of at least 60 children.
Citing health officials, Robredo said “more than 2 million children remain unvaccinated, raising concerns of more catching the disease.”
“Sa lahat ng mga magulang na nakikinig sa atin ngayon, nanawagan po ako sa inyo na bigyang pansin sa lalong madaling panahon ang pagpapabakuna ng ating mga anak at ng buong pamilya laban sa tigdas,” Robredo said over Facebook. “Buhay at kaligtasan ng ating mga mahal sa buhay ang nakasalalay,” she added.
Robredo noted that “disinformation on vaccination contributed greatly to the immunization scare, which they said caused a significant spike in cases of measles.” She backed the DOH and assured parents that the “vaccines available for measles and other infectious diseases are safe” for use. “Subok na ng mahabang panahon ang bisa ng mga bakunang ito, at walang dahilan para hindi ito gumana kung kailan natin pinakakailangan,” she added.
No mandatory immunization
Despite the outbreak, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said government is not inclined to enforce a mandatory immunization of children.
The government would instead intensify the information campaign to encourage parents to get their children vaccinated.
Bayan Muna Party-List Rep. Carlos Zarate said government must quickly address the public’s fear of vaccines after the Dengvaxia mess.
“The measles outbreak in different regions of the country is very alarming and immediate measures must be done to contain it. Vaccination drives of trustworthy measles vaccines should be launched triple time so as to stave off the further spreading of the disease,” Zarate said.
“A massive education campaign is also necessary to counteract the fear created by the Dengvaxia scandal,” added the Davao-based congressman.
“There seems to be a massive failure now of our basic health care system because it is being gravely politicized and largely driven by profit-seeking and graft-laden programs and projects like what happened with the Dengvaxia vaccine fiasco,” Zarate said.
He noted that the DOH has been largely underfunded no thanks to the “yearly budget cuts done by the past and present administrations.”
“All of these at the expense of the lives and limbs of our people, particularly the poor,” he lamented.
In Tacloban city, DOH 8 information officer John Paul Roca said cases of measles have increased by over 1000 percent with 161 cases recorded in January compared to the same period last year with only 2 and no deaths.
The agency recorded 8 deaths in January alone – 4 in Palo, 2 in Tacloban City, 1 from Pastrana, – all in Leyte province; and 1 from Gandara, Samar.
Most of the victims are children aged 6 to 9 months.
“One of the factors that we are considering on the increase of measles cases is the dengvaxia scare. There are parents who are hesitant to submit with this kind of immunization,” he pointed out.
Roca said they only have 55 percent success rate in their mass immunization last year, which is below the 95 percent target population.
Prior to the dengvaxia scare, he said they had over 90 percent success rate in immunization and no reported outbreak in Eastern Visayas.
“Walang rason kung bakit hindi kayo pwedeng magpabakuna. If you are hesitant, we have the health workers to guide you and explain to you because it is your right to ask for the purpose before you receive any health services,” he explained.
“If you have a weak immune system, there is a higher chance for you to acquire measles,” he added. (With reports from Merlina Hernando-Malipot, Genalyn D. Kabiling, Ellson Quismorio, Marie Tonette Marticio, and Hannah L. Torregoza)