Back in 1998, the Philippines gave a commitment to the World Health Organization (WHO) to undertake a 10-year mass measles vaccination program aimed at achieving zero measles record by 2008.
This should not have been such a difficult target to meet considering the ready availability of the anti-measles vaccine in all of the country’s health centers. That vaccine is available for free, which means that poverty should never be used as an excuse for failing to have all children aged 10 and below receive the protection they deserve.
Obviously, the Philippines did not live up to its commitment to the WHO.
Ever since the latest measles outbreak in Metro Manila – which remains ongoing as of press time – three kids have died. For 2013, no less than 21 Filipino children were felled by the highly contagious viral disease.
The number could be higher since there may have been unreported fatalities in the far-flung provinces.
That’s not the worst of it.
According to assistant Health secretary Eric Tayag, the situation will get worst before it gets any better.
Indeed, measles is extremely deadly because it is so easy to catch. For every case of the disease, as many as 18 individuals can get infected. Sadly, children are at the highest risk, although adults can catch measles too.
The initial symptoms of measles, which usually appear 10 to 12 days after infection, include high fever, runny nose, bloodshot eyes, and tiny white spots on the inside of the mouth.
Since the latest outbreak occurred in the National Capital Region (NCR), it stands to reason that residents of the metropolis should be extra careful about exposing their kids and themselves to the disease while the outbreak is at its peak.
This week, the single largest gathering of people in the NCR takes place in Quiapo, Manila.
The Feast of the Black Nazarene will be celebrated tomorrow, Thursday. An estimated five million devotees will troop to Quiapo to join the procession. Unfortunately, many devotees will be bringing along their children.
Both the national as well as the local government unit of the capital city should dissuade the bringing along of youngsters to the religious event. So too should the Roman Catholic Church.
Allowing kids age 10 and below to the event is a risk not worth taking.
Besides the feast, the Department of Health (DOH) should exert its utmost efforts to convince parents to avoid crowded areas such as malls. They should also vaccinate all children, not just in Metro Manila but throughout the archipelago as well.
While it may not be fair to blame the current Health officials for the Philippines’ failure to achieve the 1998 WHO target, they cannot avoid the blame if more deaths occur which could have been avoided.
Perhaps the outreach program being implemented by the Health department is not aggressive enough. Only after all Filipino children have been vaccinated can we rest easy.
We failed to hit the zero measles record in 2008. Can we try again in this new year of 2014, please?