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Myths and superstitions hamper Philippines immunization drive

Uphill battle to immunize 13 million children in one month

<p>Health workers embarked on a mass immunization drive against deadly diseases this week. (Photo courtesy of WHO)</p>

Health workers embarked on a mass immunization drive against deadly diseases this week. (Photo courtesy of WHO)

  • Jef Tupas, Davao City
  • Philippines
  • September 3, 2014
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The Philippines government this week launched a mass immunization campaign with the help of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the British government. 

But it faces an uphill battle, with many parents fearing adverse side effects and religious ramifications if they partake in the drive to immunize children against measles, polio, and rubella.

"We encounter parents who refuse to have their children immunized because it is supposed to be against their religion," Dr Abdullah Dumama, regional health director for Davao, told ucanews.com.

"We try to convince them that there is nothing in the vaccine that counters their religion.”

Dumama said mothers would hide their children from community health workers. He lamented that the "vulnerability" of unimmunized children is putting other children at risk.

But Marianelle, a 25-year-old mother from Davao region, told ucanews.com she is scared to have her three-year-old daughter vaccinated after her neighbors warned her of the "bad effects" of the vaccine.

"I was told my child would get sick once she gets the medicine,” she said. She claimed that a baby in her village got sick after receiving the measles vaccine.

She said that neither she nor her siblings received any kind of vaccine when they were young. "All of us are healthy. I don’t think there is a need for vaccination."

Armi Capili, coordinator of the Pulse Polio Immunization program, admitted that parents' hesitation to vaccinate their children has become a problem.

"We try to spend time with them. They have to understand the importance of having their children immunized,” she told ucanews.com.

WHO aims is to immunize 13 million children in the Philippines over the coming month.

"WHO is committed to a world in which nobody needs worry about the threat of measles, rubella or polio," it said in a statement.

It said that with a "determined effort" the program will bring measles down to very low levels, reduce rubella rates and support efforts to keep the Philippines polio-free.

The government has allocated US$390,000 for Davao region alone, where Dumama said the program aims to reach at least 1.2 million children aged five years old and below.

"We knock on their doors and talk to the parents. We explain to them the benefits of the vaccine. We do not stop and we should not stop," said Dumama.

In January this year, the Philippines Department of Health declared an outbreak of potentially deadly measles in several districts in at least nine cities within Metro Manila.

Records from the National Epidemiology Center show that last year there were 1,724 measles cases, including 21 deaths.

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