With epidemics of dengue and measles, which have killed more than 1,800 people, and a newly declared polio outbreak, the Philippine health system is overwhelmed and the country risks becoming an incubator for preventable diseases, largely because of The fear of vaccines.
The majority of those killed by dengue and measles are under five years of age and in the last month two cases of polio have been confirmed – a 3-year-old girl in Lanao del Sur and a 5-year-old boy in Laguna, southern Manila-, disease for which there is no cure, which was eradicated from the country 19 years ago.
"There are still about 750,000 Filipino children who have not received any vaccine," the director of the World Health Organization (WHO), Rabindra Abeyasinghe, who insists that both measles and polio are preventable, told Efe "effective and safe vaccines".
Abeyasinghe recalled that the Philippines is still recovering from the trauma of Dengvaxia, an experimental dengue vaccine that was massively applied in schools between 2016 and 2017, until its manufacturer, the French pharmaceutical company Sanofi, admitted that it had adverse effects and several vaccinated children died.
Before that scandal, 93% of Filipinos believed in the efficacy of vaccines, while today 32% do so, that is, only one in five Filipinos trust their safety, according to the Global Trust Index Vaccines
With the collapse of the 40% immunization rate in 2018 – three out of every five children under 5 are not properly vaccinated – the Philippines could be an incubator for contagious diseases, a potential risk for the entire region.
MASS IMMUNIZATION CAMPAIGN
To contain the new health emergency, the Health Department will begin next week a broad polio immunization campaign, as it did at the beginning of the year when the first measles outbreak was declared, which only now begins to be controlled after killing about 550 people.
The goal is to orally immunize some 5 million children by November, with special emphasis on the poorest communities where "overcrowding and poor sanitation facilitate the spread of polio and measles," Abeyasinghe said.
In the Philippines, with a poverty rate of 21%, more than 22 million people live in these precarious and unhealthy conditions, where these highly infectious diseases spread rapidly.
The campaign is supported by WHO, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), entities that have released funds for the purchase of vaccines and deployed specialized staff on the terrain.
The ICRC president in the Philippines, Chris Staines, said that the "alarming return" of polio puts the lives of 11 million children under five years at risk, so he encouraged all parents to vaccinate their children "to save lives. "
The immunization coverage against polio stood at 66% in 2018, "very far from the 95% that is considered safe to ensure that the population is protected against the disease," said Philippine Secretary of Health Francisco Duque.
The health authorities declared the polio outbreak on September 19, when the first case was confirmed, but they already warned of the risk of disease return months before detecting the type 2 virus in samples taken from the sewerage network of Manila and Davao , the most densely populated cities in the country.
The polio mortality rate – endemic disease only in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria – reaches 20% and its consequences are usually irreversible, in the form of paralysis.
However, the most serious health emergency in the Philippines is the dengue epidemic, declared last August, which already exceeds 307,700 cases – more than double than last year – and 1,250 deaths so far this year because of the disease, for which there is no reliable vaccine.
Although the incidence of the disease, transmitted by the bite of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, is high this year throughout Southeast Asia – infections in the region have tripled – the Philippines accumulates the most devastating figures in its worst outbreak of dengue since 2012 .
Public hospitals in the humblest neighborhoods of Manila, such as Santa Cruz or Tondo, are overwhelmed and bring together up to twenty patients per room.
In these centers, although additional beds have been deployed in the corridors to address the dengue epidemic, some patients have to share them.
More than half of dengue deaths are from children under 9, "much more vulnerable to the disease because their immune system is weaker," said Amado Parawan of Save The Children.
Given the severity of the epidemic, some voices, including that of President Rodrigo Duterte, have been in favor of resuming the use of Dengvaxia, a controversial decision when the relationship between the vaccine and the death of at least 119 children is still under investigation.
Sara Gómez Armas
. (tagsToTranslate) Philippines (t) incubator (t) preventable diseases (t) (t) vaccines