ACCORDING to the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), the Philippines’ last recorded case of wild poliovirus was in 1993. In 2000, it was declared wild polio-free by the World Health Organization (WHO).
However, last week, news broke out that polio has reemerged in the Philippines. Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Francisco Duque III said having one polio case is enough to remove the Philippines’ status as a polio-free nation.
“Not only do we lose it, but we have an epidemic. Because, based on WHO, there is a declaration of epidemic in a polio-free country, even if just one case of polio has been confirmed,” Duque said.
The re-emergence of diseases is nothing new. The health sector has always been on a lookout against infectious diseases. Here in the Philippines, the DOH has the Emerging and Re-emerging Infectious Disease Program, which aims to prevent and control emerging and re-emerging infectious disease from becoming public health problems.
According to DOH, the Philippines “continues to be susceptible to the threat of re-emerging infections.”
“New pathogens will continue to emerge and spread across regions and will challenge public health as never before signifying grim repercussions and health burden. These may cause countless morbidities and mortalities, disrupting trade and negatively affect the economy,” DOH states.
According to DOH contributing factors to the re-emergence of diseases include demographic factors like the population distribution and density; international travel or tourism and increased OFWs; socio-economic factors; and environmental factors.
According to health officials, a low immunization rate may be among the causes as to how polio has re-emerged in the Philippines.
DOH-Davao Region National Immunization Program manager Janis Olavides said they only recorded a 67 percent immunization coverage for the whole country. DOH targets a 95 percent immunization coverage. According to Unicef, the Philippines needs to hit that 95 percent target if it wants to stop the spread of polio.
The low turnout of immunization can be attributed to the Dengvaxia scare in 2017. This also resulted in a drop in the immunization coverage against other diseases like measles. Despite the pleas of health officials, some continue to fear of possible side effects of vaccines.
There is currently no known cure against polio. Immunization is currently one of the most effective ways to prevent the disease from emerging or spreading.
There are a lot of factors as to the re-emergence of polio in the Philippines. While it is alarming, the DOH, including the City Health Office in Davao City, was able to properly address the problem as they ramp up the immunization program against the city.
The re-emergence of polio is a reality check for us. The government may need to re-evaluate the health and environment of the Philippines concerning the re-emergence of some diseases. It might have to step up its information campaign to make people better understand the diseases and its mitigating and prevention efforts against threats on the health of the Filipinos.
Likewise, the public must also do its part by cooperating with the government and having an open mind in understanding the scientific concepts behind these diseases.
The re-emergence of diseases is less likely to be caused by nature. However, human intervention in the natural order of things and disregard of the environment may have created an environment that allows these diseases to emerge or re-emerge.