THE World Health Organization (WHO) has categorically acknowledged that vaccines and immunizations are necessary, and in a way promotes world governments to ensure the safety of the general population to have access of these for free, given that these shots have been approved from a stringent process made by this United Nations agency.
Among these vaccines being encouraged by WHO, are those specializing in dengue. In fact the 67th session of WHO’s Regional Office for the Western Pacific was held in Manila on October 10-14, 2016, and has planned to endorse the “Western Pacific Regional Action Plan for Dengue Prevention and Control (RAP, 2016).”
The new RAP is a response following the results manifesting that the dengue problem continues to increase, despite the Regional Committee has endorsed in 2008 the “Dengue Strategic Plan for the Asia Pacific Region (2008–2015).” The strategic plan was supposed to serve as a roadmap for dengue prevention and control efforts in the Western Pacific Region, which includes the Philippines.
“Although progress has been made, an incomplete understanding of the disease and limited tools and resources have frustrated efforts to control dengue,” according to the regional committee’s statement in its introductory to the RAP documents. In addition, the new RAP is also a way to comply with “The Global Strategy for Dengue Prevention and Control 2012–2020” that aims to reduce 50 percent in mortality and 25 percent in morbidity due to dengue by 2020, and we have three years left to achieve that.
The Department of Health (DoH), regardless of who was its secretary and sitting as president of the Philippines, must have acknowledged WHO’s regional committee’s strategic plan for dengue from 2008-2015. As the agency should be working with WHO as far as the health of the population is concerned, especially dengue as one of the prevalent diseases reoccurring whole year round.
At the end of the regional committee’s strategic plan’s target year of 2015, DoH data showed that from January 1 to December 31, 2015, a total of 200,415 “suspect” dengue cases were reported nationwide, which has an alarming rate of 64.8 percent higher compared to the same period last 2014 which was around 121,580. The high number of cases come from Region 3 (17.9 percent), Region 4-A (16.8 percent), National Capital Region (NCR, 12.6 percent), and Region 2 (7 percent).
Meanwhile, the DoH did not upload in its online database the full 2016 data and it has stopped on “Week 36” or from January 1 to September 10, 2016. But the figures had a total of 126,386 suspect dengue cases reported nationwide, which was 14 percent higher compared in the previous year. At this period in time, Region 6 (12.7 percent) got the highest incident of dengue cases, followed by Region 4-A (10.4 percent), Region 7 (10.3 percent), Region 12 (8.6 percent), and Region 3 (8.1%).
And here comes Dengvaxia, an anti-dengue vaccine produced by a French pharmaceutical company, Sanofi Pasteur. The vaccine was reportedly approved by the DoH’s Food and Drug Administration in December 2015, and given the data mentioned earlier especially the year, it was highly coincidental.
The scandal started when DoH entered a rather rushed contract with Sanofi Pasteuer, and rolled out these vaccines especially in public schools, despite the fact that the vaccine was in its development stage and the WHO did not even recommend it for immediate dispensation. And when this came out to the public and currently investigated at the Senate, more than 800,000 - mostly school children - have already been vaccinated, some were reportedly to have died. Those who get the vaccines also come from the regions with high cases of dengue in 2015 and 2016 especially Region 3, 4, and NCR.
This is only the medical and scientific side of it. What is more alarming is the long-term effects of the public on trusting DoH programs and letting their children get vaccinated or immunized. In Western countries, there have been groups or organizations that do not subscribe to the idea of getting their children vaccinated, they are named the Anti-Vaxxers.
Anti-Vaxxers believed that vaccines and immunizations give more harm to people than protecting them from diseases, adding more suspicions was the great conspiracy theory on big pharmaceutical companies controlling the world by creating diseases in order to sell governments vaccines and other medicines to stop these “man-made diseases.”
The Dengvaxia scandal did not only put DoH to a great shame in protecting the people it serves, but it has incited distrust to the public, in the long run, some may not believe anymore to any of the agency’s projects and would become skeptical to the point of becoming Anti-Vaxxers themselves.
Prevention of dengue and other tropical diseases prevalent in the Philippines is at par important as getting people vaccinated and immunized with clinically tested vaccines that has passed the rigid screening process from national governments to the WHO. Being part member of the United Nations, the Philippines are obliged to meet the targets set by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), and on this case: SDG Number 3: Good and Health and Well-Being. The WHO Regional Committee’s RAP 2016 also seeks to address that some SDGs are being met in the process of combatting dengue and other mosquito-borne diseases.
If the Philippines is serious in eradicating dengue, it should not be influenced by politics, and it should not shortchange its service to the people over personal gains of money and junkets traveling abroad. And then again, the greatest challenge for DoH now is how to win the public back their trust.