Philippine health officials declare measles outbreak

At least 72 reported dead as top church official urges authorities to allay peoples fears over vaccines
Philippine health officials declare measles outbreak

A student gets a vaccine shot from a health worker on Feb. 8 after the Philippine Health Department announced a measles outbreak across the country. (Photo by Karl Romano)

Philippine health officials have declared a measles outbreak across the country following scores of deaths resulting from the disease in recent weeks.

Department of Health spokesman Enrique Domingo said at least 72 deaths have occurred from more than 2,000 reported cases nationwide.

The rising number of cases was likely due to a decline in the number of people being vaccinated, he said in a television interview.

According to Health Department figures, 960,457 children were not vaccinated during the first three quarters of last year, an increase on 855,039 children in 2017.

The World Health Organization noted that there are about 2.5 million children under five years old in the Philippines susceptible to measles due to a lack of appropriate vaccination.

The Catholic bishops’ conference said the government should allay any fears parents have regarding vaccinating their children.

"If parents don't really trust this vaccination, then they should at least have recourse to other medical interventions that will prevent measles," said Father Jerome Secillano, executive secretary of the bishops’ public affairs committee.

People's suspicion of vaccinations has been attributed to an aborted dengue vaccination program that proved fatal in some cases.

Several deaths allegedly due to the dengue vaccine were reported and several government officials were indicted in connection with the deaths.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque, however, assured the public that the measles vaccines are different. "[The measles vaccines] are safe and have been in use worldwide for decades now," he said.

Measles is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus. It is transferred from person to person via sneezing, coughing and close personal contact. 

Symptoms include a cough, runny nose, red eyes or conjunctivitis, fever and skin rashes that last for more than three days. Complications, which may lead to death, include severe diarrhea, middle ear infections, pneumonia, encephalitis and blindness.

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