Ever since the Department of Health (DOH) declared a measles outbreak in February last year, there have been more than 42,000 reported cases of measles and 560 deaths. And just as reports that came in from the last month indicate that the number of measles cases and their fatality rates are falling, cases of dengue have seen an uptick. The DOH declared a dengue epidemic back in August, and 350,000 cases of the disease and more than 1,3000 related deaths have since been reported. It has been named as the worst dengue epidemic the country has seen in a decade.
A mere month after the DOH declared a dengue epidemic, the same governing body confirmed the re-emergence of polio, of which a third case was confirmed just this week. Having been eradicated 19 years prior, the health department has now launched campaigns to bolster polio immunisation, planning to inoculate large numbers of children under five years of age in several parts of the country.
Rabindra Abeyasinghe, acting representative of the World Health Organization in the Philippines, explained that the outbreaks of these preventable diseases have come about as a result of falling immunisation rates, alongside growing anti-vaccine sentiments. "We have seen that the vaccination rate is decreasing globally; it is not specific to the Philippines," Abeyasinghe told Deutsche Welle, the German state-owned media company.
The current required vaccination coverage stands at 95 per cent. But vaccination coverage in the Philippines decreased from 88 per cent on average in 2013 to 73 per cent in 2017. In 2018, it sat at less than 70 per cent. Experts suggest this may have been due to a dengue vaccine scare that occurred in 2017, resulting in plummeting immunisation rates in the country.
Wijdan Madani, Chief of Health and Nutrition for the United Nations Population Fund, said that achieving 95-per-cent immunity is the nation’s top priority, as is investing in hygiene and sanitation. "It is important to take action now. If we don't curb this outbreak, we can expect outbreaks like these to happen every three to four years," said Madani.