Chief Public Attorney Persida Rueda-Acosta on Wednesday described as "unfair" the criticisms hurled against her and the Public Attorney's Office (PAO) over the measles outbreak in Metro Manila.
"Huwag po nilang isisi sa PAO (Don't put the blame on PAO)," the official told reporters during an interview at the Manila Hotel.
"Paano naman kami ang magiging may kasalanan sa measles problem natin ngayon, mandato ng DOH (Department of Health) na mangampanya ng mga subok na bakuna. Ang PAO, 'di po kontra sa mga subok na bakuna. Wala po tayong ibang bakuna na pinag-uusapan kundi Dengvaxia lang (How can we be responsible for the measles problem today? It is the mandate of the DOH to campaign for proven immunization. We're not against any tested vaccination. Our only concern here is Dengvaxia)," she added.
Acosta has been accused of grandstanding on the Dengvaxia controversy after French manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur issued a global advisory, warning the public over risks of administering the vaccine to persons with no history of the disease.
Expanding measles cases
The Department of Health (DOH) now declared a measles outbreak—calling all parents and concerned institutions, primarily hospitals and local government unit to check their children and seek anti-measles vaccination immediately.
From the National Capital Region (NCR), DOH had now cited the outbreak expansion, reaching the majority of Luzon, Central and Eastern Visayas.
DOH said it had to declare outbreak due to the measles-related cases that “increased in the past weeks and to strengthen surveillance of new cases and [to] alert mothers and caregivers to be more vigilant.”
“Parents have to absolutely bring their children to the health centers for immunization. There is no other way but back to bakuna or vaccination. Parents should not wait for complications to set in because it might be too late,” Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said.
He warned that bronchopneumonia from measles complication can be dangerous, adding that parents should not be complacent about it.
NCR: 48 cases each day
The DOH Epidemiology Bureau presented a data showing a surprising increase of measles cases in Metro Manila—it reached 196 cases compared to the 20 cases that was reported in the region last year.
While at the San Lazaro Hospital, one of the DOH’s referral centers for infectious diseases, there were 1,355 cases. In January alone, 1,240 were admitted, including 1,114 pediatric patients—of which 47 children died.
The hospital now records an average of 48 measle cases every day.
The NCR comprises 16 cities: Caloocan, Malabon, Navotas, Valenzuela, Quezon City, Marikina, Pasig, Taguig, Makati, Manila, Mandaluyong, San Juan, Pasay, Parañaque, Las Piñas and Muntinlupa, and the sole municipality of Pateros.
Luzon, Central Visayas also under contagion
DOH on Thursday has expanded the outbreak of the highly-contagious measles to other areas in Luzon, and Central and Eastern Visayas.
Data from the DOH Epidemiology Bureau showed that the number of measles cases in Ilocos region, Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon, CALABARZON, MIMAROPA and Bicol region has shown an increasing trend as of January 26.
There were 575 cases with nine deaths in CALABARZON and 441 cases with five deaths. Central Luzon had 192 cases with four deaths, Western Visayas had 104 cases with three deaths and Central Visayas had 71 cases and one death.
There were also 70 cases with no death in MIMAROPA, 64 cases with two deaths in Ilocos region, 60 cases with no death in Northern Mindanao, 54 cases and one death in Eastern Visayas and 43 cases with no death in SOCCSKSARGEN.
The reported cases of combined measles and rubella in 2018 ballooned to 18,026 in 2018 from only 3,804 in 2017—a 374-percent rise.
The measles mayhem
Measles is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus. It is transferred from person to person through sneezing, coughing and close personal contact.
Its signs and symptoms include cough, runny nose, red eyes/conjunctivitis, fever and skin rashes lasting for more than three days.
Aside from bronchopneumonia, other complications include diarrhea, middle ear infection, encephalitis or swelling of the brain, malnutrition and blindness, which may lead to death.
“Nutritional support and oral rehydration are important measures to increase body resistance and replace lost body fluid caused by coughing, diarrhea and perspiration,” the DOH secretary.
He added that immunization and vitamin A supplementation of nine-month-old children are the best defenses against measles.
Ruby Constantino, director of the DOH Disease Prevention and Control Bureau, earlier warned, anticipating a measles outbreak is expected this year, with 2.4 million unvaccinated children.
Meanwhile, the Philippine Foundation for Vaccination (PFV) expressed alarm over the rising cases of measles, saying even babies are now getting infected.
In an interview, PFV executive director Lulu Bravo noted there were reports of children below nine years old who have contracted measles.
“We are bothered by so many deaths now from measles and even young babies less than the age recommended for vaccination, meaning nine months old, are getting measles,” Bravo said.
Bravo maintained that babies should have measles protection from their mothers up to about nine years old.
But she warned that the babies of mothers who are not vaccinated or not adequately vaccinated would be susceptible to measles as early as one month old.
“In 2005 to 2010 and up to 2013, we were having zero deaths with only a few cases. We are now looking at big outbreak and hundreds, even thousands, are expected to die every year if this trend continues,” Bravo said.
Bravo also cautioned that the tourism industry will likely be affected if the rise in measles cases will not be curbed soon because it “is always a potential scare for people not to come.”
“When infectious disease outbreak happens, visitors will not come. Remember the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil? When Zika was reported to have increased there, some athletes opted not to participate,” she added.
The expert urged parents to have their children vaccinated to protect them against vaccine-preventable diseases like measles.
The DOH is targeting a vaccination rate of 90 percent. In 2016 and 2017, it achieved 70 to 80 percent of the target.
Last year, the agency posted vaccine coverage of 40 percent.
Vice President Leni Robredo had also shared her concerns over the epidemic plaguing the regions lately, urging the Duterte administration to take immediate actions to help bring back the public’s trust in the government’s immunization program to prevent another measles outbreak this year.
Robredo said the rise in measles cases could have been avoided if there were no irresponsible comments and accusations made that persuaded a change of heart from the public, losing the trust in the government’s immunization program.
The Vice President was apparently referring to the controversy involving the Dengvaxia vaccine, which some groups blamed for the deaths of some Filipino children.
She said because of the Dengvaxia scare, many parents are afraid to have their children vaccinated.
“I hope concerns like this should not be politicized because the lives of the children are at stake here,” she said.
“Let’s avoid finger pointing. Instead let’s find solutions on how we can recover from this,” Robredo added.
Yesterday, the House had already recommended filing charges of graft, technical malversation and grave misconduct against former President Benigno ‘Pnoy’ Aquino III, former Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and former Health Secretary Janette Garin over the Dengvaxia issue.
Both Aquino and Robredo had been the prominent front-liners of Liberal Party.
Relating this to the recently declared measles outbreak, the public was quick to drag Acosta's name for allegedly influencing general perception about vaccination.
But whether or not the Dengvaxia mess has a direct link to the low turnout on immunization, Acosta said, "Hindi po kami ang gumawa ng scare, Sanofi po ang nagpa-press conference noong November 29, 2017 na 'di puwede sa 'di pa na-dengue (ang nabakunahan ng Dengvaxia). Nabakunahan na nila, so sino pong gumawa ng scare, PAO? (We did not create the scare. It was Sanofi who organized a press conference on November 29, 2017, saying that Dengvaxia cannot be administered to those without history of the disease. The vaccine was already given. So did PAO create the scare?)"
"Hindi po kami ang nagdulot niyan, hindi po kami ang nagturok ng mass vaccination (We did not cause that. We are not the ones who administered the mass vaccination)," she also said.
The PAO has been filing cases against several former and incumbent government officials in connection with the aborted Dengvaxia program. Citing forensic exam results, the PAO said the anti-dengue vaccine resulted in the deaths of several children.
The DOH Epidemiology Bureau (DOH EB) reported that the number of measles cases in the National Capital Region already reached 196 from January 1 to 19. This is much higher than the 20 cases recorded during the same period in 2018.
In 2018, the DOH EB recorded 3,646 measles cases in the region against 351 cases in 2017 (LON / PNA REPORTS)