Measles Outbreak: DOH Efforts Not Enough?

Thursday, February 06, 2014 Stef dela Cruz, MD 0 Comments

The recent measles outbreak has many people scratching their heads and asking, “What happened?” Is it something we could have avoided? If so, where did we go wrong and what can we do to prevent it in the future?

Measles outbreak

When there is an outbreak, it’s a blatant sign that the game plan didn’t work. It’s a sign that the government, particularly the Department of Health (DOH), should re-evaluate their efforts. If you’re looking for specific reasons, here are a few.

Reason #1:
Very few parents know that the Expanded Program of Immunization (EPI) is not enough to protect children from measles.

Not everybody knows that the Centers for Disease Control and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices in the U.S. actually consider measles vaccination before 1 year of age as a dose that “doesn’t count”. For a person to be fully vaccinated against measles, he should have at least two doses of measles vaccine given when he was at least 12 months old.

And when Filipinos don’t know that, whose job is it to educate? Whose job is it to tell parents that vaccination against measles should occur at least twice – once at around 12 months and again before preschool – for it to be truly effective? Whose job is it to promote health education?

The Department of Health is right here in Manila, smack in the middle of the measles outbreak. That’s an unfortunate paradox that tells us how we can’t seem to keep away disease in our own backyard.

“But we have already given free vaccinations” is just an alibi. “But it’s not our fault if the parents don’t find the time to visit the clinic” is a sign that our message isn’t getting through.

Reason #2:
The Philippines should have been measles-free six years ago.

We have failed to meet our goal for the Philippines to be “measles-free” by 2008. We didn’t just fail to meet that goal; we actually have an outbreak in our hands.

At least 40 percent of the susceptible population should be unvaccinated for an outbreak to occur, Dr. Montellano explained. It begs the question, was the Ligtas-Tigdas campaign by the Department of Health forgotten or, worse, neglected?

Senator Nancy Binay even suggested that an investigation be done to review the department’s different programs for immunization. I have yet to hear an update about it.

In the meantime, the outbreak is spreading to other areas in the Philippines. So, let me ask you, is there a measles outbreak in your area right now? If you don’t know, then the DOH isn’t doing a very good job of relaying their message to the media. (Or maybe we just prefer to participate in the whole Vhong-Deniece fiasco.)

Reason #3:
More and more people are starting to believe that measles vaccines cause autism.

Like I said in my opinion piece about autism and measles vaccination in All Voices, evidence is useless if people don’t believe in it. So, instead of trying to argue with parents who think vaccines cause autism, I would like to share a short video courtesy of Penn & Teller.

If you are afraid that the measles vaccine might cause autism, do watch this short clip. I hope it helps.

Reason #4:
We don’t really know how many of us are really getting vaccinated.

In the United States, the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program provides compensation for patients who suffer from the adverse side effects of vaccination. I then asked Dr. Montellano if we have a Philippine version of this.

Measles Outbreak - Expert Speaks Up
Dr. May Montellano, President of the Philippine Foundation of Vaccination, cuts through the nonsense and tells us how it is.

Her honest answer was, “We have very poor surveillance in the Philippines. How can we investigate alleged vaccine-related adverse outcomes if we don’t even have adequate surveillance of vaccine coverage?”

What I’m Itching to Say

But at one point, we have to stop blaming the government and start looking in the mirror. Are we doing what we can, given what we have, to help promote awareness? Or are we more interested in sharing awesome photos of the food we eat (which is great, really, except that there is so much more we can share)?

You have Facebook, Twitter, and maybe even Instagram. Please take the time to tell your friends about the measles outbreak and what they might not yet know about it. Share this information and be one person who made a difference.

Stef dela CruzAbout the blogger
Stef dela Cruz is a vegan doctor and writer. She received the 2013 Award for Health Media from the Department of Health. She is the editor of The Manila Bulletin's Animal Scene Magazine. Get in touch if you want to invite her as a speaker!