ucanews.com reporter, ManilaUpdated: February 20, 2019 05:41 AM GMT
A health worker prepares to give a child a measles vaccine in the northern Philippine city of Dagupan on Feb. 20 as part of the city's campaign against the spread of the measles virus. (Photo by Karl Romano)
Church leaders in the Philippines are appealing to the public to have their children vaccinated for measles as health officials announced that at least 130 people, mostly children, have died from the viral disease.
Authorities this week said 8,400 people have fallen ill in an outbreak that has been blamed on a failure to become immunized due to fears about vaccination, especially for children.
Archbishop Rolando Tria Tirona of Caceres issued a pastoral letter appealing to parents to take their children to local health centers to be immunized.
"Let not the unfounded fear of the vaccine affect the lives of our children," said the prelate.
Health officials have admitted that one of the reasons behind the outbreak is that families are wary of getting their children vaccinated.
Their fears are attributed to a controversial anti-dengue program, which was stopped by the government after reports came out blaming the vaccine for the death of several children.
Father Dan Vincente Cancino, executive secretary of the Episcopal Commission on Health Care of the Philippine bishops' conference, said parish health workers were helping disseminate the right information about vaccines in areas affected by the outbreak.
In his diocese, Archbishop Tirona called on government and non-government agencies "to work hand in hand in the fight to contain and eventually eradicate the measles outbreak."
"We are saddened by the many reported deaths of our children, mostly from poor families and communities," said the prelate.
Philippine Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said an immunization drive his department started may contain the outbreak by April.
"No ifs, no buts, no conditions, you just have to bring your children and trust that the vaccines ... will save your children," he said.
Measles is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus. It is transferred 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.