THE rise in the number of dengue cases in the country this year has become so alarming, the Department of Health (DOH) had to declare last week a national dengue epidemic. Health Sec. Francisco Duque III also requested that the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council convene a full council meeting immediately, an indication that the epidemic was approaching disastrous proportions.
Just how bad has the situation turned? Exactly 146,062 cases (with 622 deaths) were recorded nationwide between January and July 20 this year, almost double the figures for the same period last year. Central Visayas, which includes Cebu, had 10,728 cases which, although much lower than Western Visayas’ 23,330, still broke the DOH’s so-called alert threshold level.
This is the first time, as far as I can recall, that the government declared a national dengue epidemic and it has attracted news headlines around the world. “Philippines Declares a National Dengue Epidemic,” the New York Times reported on Aug. 6. BBC News bannered a smaller heading: “Philippines declares dengue epidemic as deaths surge.” Both news outlets showed a picture of a victim. Both of them were children.
Although the mosquito-borne disease can happen to people of all ages, the most vulnerable ones are the children. This is why the first known dengue immunization program in the country targeted schoolchildren. Unfortunately, the program was aborted before it could fully take off after its manufacturer admitted that in rare cases Dengvaxia can be harmful to the recipient who has had no previous exposure to dengue.
What followed was a period of frenzy when hysterical parents blamed every medical issue affecting their vaccinated children to Dengvaxia and pompous two-bit politicians cashed in on the controversy to gain mileage. Why, even a government lawyer whose only medical training was limited to a two-unit course in medical jurisprudence in law school, suddenly became an expert in forensic medicine with the assistance of a sidekick whose entire professional work has been devoted to determining the wounds of entry and exit in physical injuries and homicide cases!
We will never know if Dengvaxia would have helped prevent the current dengue epidemic. It admittedly had potentially damaging side effects but which modern drug doesn’t? An antibiotic can give you ulcer, a statin can affect your kidney and your liver and an ordinary sleeping pill can result in addiction. The thing is you determine whether the risk is within tolerable limits and the drug’s potential harm far outweighs its benefits. We never got to have that with Dengvaxia, thanks to the grandstanding idiots.
President Rodrigo Duterte recently said that he was open to bringing back Dengvaxia to the drug store and government health center shelves in order to combat the dengue epidemic. But he has to hear first what the experts had to say. I hope that he talks to the real experts, not the pseudo ones.
Already, some government doctors are saying that a thorough study has to be done before the vaccine can be reintroduced. Dengvaxia will not solve the epidemic, they said. That is true. It is supposed to protect someone from contacting dengue not cure him who already has it.
The irony is that we could have had that study two years ago if we had not allowed ourselves to be driven to hysteria. We could have just suspended the drug’s use while the study was being done instead of condemning it as a killer. That would have made its reintroduction easier if a reintroduction was possible. As it is, after it has been demonized, which parent would have his child injected with it even if the government has cleared it as safe?