Measles deaths: A tragedy from the ‘circus’

(CNN Photo)


THE indiscretion, and even politicking, of the Dengvaxia controversy last year, has finally landed the Philippines in a reputable, foreign medical journal with international circulation.

The British Medical Journal (BMJ) reported recent deaths in the country of 70 Filipinos, mostly children, because of measles. It is our country’s “deadliest yet” and because of “vaccine skepticism.” Owen Dyer wrote the report in the journal’s January issue. The number is serious if we look at it mathematically. Since January has only 31 days, the deaths of 70 Filipinos computes easily to more than two deaths every day.

Dyer noted that the number of deaths is the same number of deaths in the entire World Health Organization European region for the whole year of 2018. Small a country we are, our deaths from measles compete with those in Europe. If there is a Guinness World of Records for this matter, the Philippines will be a good candidate; thanks to the misguided zeal of a prosecutor. Evidently, despite sporadic use of Latin phrases in law, legalese will never understand medical Latin.

The article reported that measles cases in 2018 reached more than 18,000 cases compared to its 2,400 cases in 2017. That is an increase of 7.5 times. If that growth pertains to net Philippine foreign direct investments, that would have been a reason for congratulations and perhaps, champagne pops.

Dyer reported that measles vaccination rate steeply dropped in 2018 to 55 percent from 88 percent in 2014 and 73 percent in 2017. After the controversy erupted late 2016, measles vaccination already dropped 15 percent from its 2014 rate. The three-year gap may be used to consider a slow decline of five percent every year. However, the “circus” that followed in 2018 simply hammered the last nail into the measles vaccination coffin: a decline of 18 percent in only one year.

Now, is this a hopeless situation? I think not. Fifty-five percent (assuming one child vaccination per couple) of Filipino parents still keep the faith. The challenge now for the Department of Health (DOH) is to ensure that parents are well-informed on the benefits of measles vaccination and, perhaps more crucial, assure parents that the measles vaccines will never cause death to their children. If the DOH fails, then the next 18 percent decline in the vaccination rate will be toward a 37 percent parental confidence on the vaccine. That will be a tragedy, and not the Bee Gees kind.


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