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Public health crisis

The country has yet to come to terms with a public health crisis, with outbreaks of measles, dengue, and polio reported in succession since the start of the year.

Public health crisis

Since health officials declared an outbreak in February, there have been more than 40,000 cases of measles and more than 500 deaths—although the latest reports indicate the number of cases is finally falling.

Since August, when a dengue epidemic was declared, more than 350,000 cases of the mosquito-borne disease have been reported, with 1,300 deaths.

Then in September, polio, a deadly and extremely contagious disease, re-emerged after 19 years, with three confirmed cases.

The government has moved swiftly to inoculate millions of children under the age of 5, but more ought to be done, not only by the Department of Health but by national and local officials and the general public.

On the side of the executive, some serious consideration must be given to shoring up the Department of Health’s budget, which has been cut down to P160.15 billion in 2020, almost P10 billion less than the P169.45 billion allocated for 2019. We cannot imagine how the administration expects the department to do any better than this year, with P10 billion less in funding that could have gone into buying more vaccines and a more effective information campaign to drive up the country’s dismally low immunization rate.

A few months ago, the United Nations Children’s Fund raised concerns over the country’s declining immunization coverage, saying some 2.9-million Filipino children are at risk of contracting life-threatening diseases.

Measles immunization, UNICEF said, has dropped at an “alarming rate,” falling from 88 percent in 2013 to 73 percent in 2017 and less than 70 percent in 2018—far below the required 95 percent.

The Health department, for its part, should stop making the Dengvaxia scare of 2017 the scapegoat for poor immunization coverage that began declining well before that year.

Media and advertising companies—as part of their corporate social responsibility programs—could help the Health department develop a truly effective information campaign that targets not only higher immunization rates, but also better hygiene in our communities.

All this begins at home, of course, and local officials and residents have the responsibility to make sure their communities are clean.

The type 2 polio virus, for instance, thrives in environments with poor sanitation, particularly where residents along riverbanks do not have toilets.

The polio virus can be passed on from person to person, through contaminated food and water, especially among children who play in the dirt and do not wash their hands before eating.

While we have rejected Dengvaxia, dengue can be kept in check if the breeding places for mosquitoes are sought out and destroyed.

There is much to be done to stem the public health crisis. Everyone has a part to play.

Topics: public health crisis , Department of Health , United Nations Children’s Fund , editorial
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