Measles outbreak in 3 more regions
Children with measles are attended by physicians at the pediatric ward of the San Lazaro Hospital in Manila yesterday.
Krizjohn Rosales
Measles outbreak in 3 more regions
Mayen Jaymalin (The Philippine Star) - February 8, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Aside from Metro Manila and Central Luzon, three more regions are reeling from measles outbreaks and another three are being monitored for possibly being in the same situation, the Department of Health (DOH) said yesterday.

“We are expanding the outbreak from Metro Manila to other regions as cases have increased in the past weeks,” Health Secretary Francisco Duque III announced at a press conference yesterday.

Aside from the National Capital Region (NCR) and Central Luzon, Duque said outbreaks of measles have been detected in the Calabarzon region and in Western and Central Visayas.

Based on validated data, Duque said 575 cases, including nine deaths, have been recorded in Calabarzon – the region of Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon. The figure was 2,538 percent higher than last year’s 21 cases.

In Western Visayas, 104 cases and three deaths were recorded or 550 percent higher than last year, while 71 cases – with one death, were posted in Central Visayas or an increase of 3,450 percent from only two cases last year.

The DOH previously declared an outbreak of measles in NCR and Central Luzon. In the NCR, 441 cases, including five deaths, were recorded while 575 cases with nine deaths were recorded in Central Luzon.

Out of the 17 cities in the NCR, 14 recorded clustering of measles cases.

Among those admitted in the NCR, the DOH said seven were pregnant women now confined at the San Lazaro Hospital.

Duque also raised heightened alert in Mimaropa, Ilocos region, Eastern Visayas, Eastern Visayas, Northern Mindanao and Soccsksargen.

He said 70 cases were reported in Mimaropa, 64 cases including two deaths in Ilocos, 60 cases in Northern Mindanao, 54 cases with one death in Eastern Visayas and 43 cases in Soccsksargen.

“These regions should step up their responses against the highly communicable diseases as well as ensure that preventive measures play a vital role in preventing the spread of the disease,” Duque stressed.

He assured the public that there is no new strain of measles and that the outbreaks were due to the increasing number of unvaccinated children nationwide.

To control the outbreak, Duque said, the DOH is now undertaking house-to-house measles immunization program for the estimated 1.8 million unvaccinated children nationwide.

Forget Dengvaxia

Duque appealed to the public to set aside the Dengvaxia controversy and avail themselves of the benefits of measles vaccines.

“Don’t think twice, have your children immunized,” he said in Filipino.

The DOH said it did not immediately declare outbreak of measles because data have to be validated.

Ferchito Avelino, DOH Epidemiology Bureau director, said the main DOH office has to make the announcement due to the extent of the outbreak.

“LGUs can make the declaration of an outbreak if the cases were confined in certain areas only,” he pointed out.

Health Undersecretary Eric Domingo said the outbreak of measles was due to the increase in the number of unvaccinated children for the past years.

Domingo noted that measles immunization rates have been declining since 2015, and they have significantly dropped in the last two years following the Dengvaxia controversy.

He said when the DOH conducted supplemental measles immunization in October last year, the program yielded only 29 percent immunization rate.

Domingo said the DOH will now be providing measles immunization to children as young as six months to provide them with the necessary protection.

He said the DOH is also providing free measles immunization to adults, although a majority of measles cases involve children below five years old.

President Duterte, said his spokesman Salvador Panelo, has ordered the DOH to launch a nationwide campaign to promote immunization for measles.

Panelo said the President gave the orders to Duque at Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting which lasted until past 1 a.m. yesterday.

“The Department of Health’s immunization program was likewise tackled. The President ordered a vigorous campaign to promote the complete immunization for children,” he said.

“He directed Secretary Duque to do something about it and Secretary Duque said ‘we are already doing something about it.’ So, we’re conducting a massive immunization plus information campaign that it’s better to prevent than to cure,” Panelo added.

Red Cross ready

With more regions hit by the measles outbreak, the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) is offering to put up emergency medical units and outdoor hospitals to accommodate the growing number of children afflicted with measles.

PRC chair Sen. Richard Gordon said the San Lazaro Hospital is now overflowing with children sick with measles.

When he visited the hospital, he said, he saw two or three children sharing one bed, while rooms that usually accommodate two or three patients are now filled with 10.

“Even hallways are being used,” Gordon said.

He said the PRC is ready to provide medical interventions, including the establishment of a 100-bed emergency medical unit and welfare desks at San Lazaro Hospital.

San Lazaro doctors said there are 250 patients with confirmed measles cases admitted at the hospital. They were mostly unvaccinated children.

Gordon said the PRC is also ready to provide blankets and hygiene kits.

“Let’s stop the scare and rather educate the parents, families and communities on the importance of vaccination for our children’s sake,” Gordon said in his Twitter account, apparently referring to the Dengvaxia scare.

Sen. Nancy Binay, meanwhile, called for a united effort to convince parents to have their children vaccinated with anti-measles shots.

Binay said the DOH with the help of the media should intensify its information campaign regarding the importance of immunization.

“The harm will be more serious if we don’t get our children vaccinated,” she said.

She stressed there should be no finger-pointing over the possible cause of the outbreak and that authorities should focus on addressing the problem.

“At this point in time, let’s stop blaming each other,” she said.

Binay said an alarming development in the measles outbreak is its having affected a tourist from Australia. She warned this might prompt other countries to issue advisory against traveling to the Philippines.

“We don’t want this problem to be the trigger for other countries to issue travel advisories,” she said.

She admitted the Dengvaxia controversy could further discourage parents from having their children vaccinated.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said even fellow Cabinet officials acknowledged the impact of the Dengvaxia controversy on the government’s immunization program.

“Last night it was discussed in the Cabinet that the reason for the measles outbreak was the Dengvaxia issue. Parents became afraid of having their children vaccinated,” he said in Filipino on the sidelines of the National Federalism Summit in Manila.

“We will embark on an advocacy to encourage parents to bring their children for immunization,” he said. – With Cecille Suerte Felipe, Emmanuel Tupas, Christina Mendez

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