Factors behind polio, measles outbreak cited
MANILA, Philippines — Several factors have made the environment ripe for the outbreak of measles and polio, according to health officials, who blamed the public health crisis on low immunization coverage, the severe lack of healthcare workers and poor understanding of health.
Department of Health (DOH) data submitted to the Senate on Sept. 24 showed that vaccination rates for polio and measles have been waning since 2014, even before the Dengvaxia controversy broke out.
Over the last five years, the immunization rate for polio has ranged from a high of 75 percent in 2015 to a low of 66 percent in 2018.
Measles coverage peaked at 79 percent in 2015 and dropped to 67 percent last year.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the vaccination rate should be 95 percent to prevent any outbreak of vaccine-preventable diseases.
Overall, the country’s immunization rate declined to a dismal 60 percent in 2018 after Dengvaxia manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur admitted in November 2017 that its vaccine may cause severe dengue among those not previously exposed to the mosquito-borne disease.
The National Institutes of Health of the University of the Philippines (UP-NIH) said the government should have strengthened its expanded program on immunization (EPI), the “cornerstone” of the country’s health system.
But the EPI itself is severely understaffed, with its head office manned by only three officials, and its regional offices overseen by just two individuals.
“In fact, our colleagues at the WHO would tell us, ‘you’re doing the most impossible thing.’ You have a big country to work with, a large population of infants you need to cover and yet the technical capacity is down to two persons at the central level,” Dr. Anthony Calibo, officer in charge of the DOH’s children’s health division, told a Senate hearing.
Despite that, the government should have been more proactive in communicating the importance of vaccination, said Dr. Lena Lopez, head of the UP-NIH’s institute of child health and human development.
“We should have been more passionate about establishing the value of vaccination. Vaccines provide equity. It’s a public health right,” said Lopez, who has been working on vaccine research for close to two decades now.
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