DOH monitoring suspected measles outbreak in Sarangani town

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Health (DOH) on Thursday, November 29, said that it is monitoring a suspected measles outbreak in Sarangani after at least 18 Lumad children from several remote communities in Malapatan town died, possibly from the disease. 

The DOH said that as of Wednesday, November 28, it recorded 84 other suspected measles cases, with ages ranging from 4 months old to 40 years old, majority of whom are female.

DOH Undersecretary Enrique Domingo earlier told Rappler that the health department has not yet declared a measles outbreak as tests still have to be completed to confirm the individuals were infected with measles. (FAST FACTS: What is measles and how can it be prevented?)

Only 18 of the 84 suspected cases have had a physical check up with a physician. Symptoms and conditions of the rest were based on verbal accounts of relatives and barangay officials.

The DOH said all 84 individuals have no history of contracting the disease.

Meanwhile, blood samples from 12 suspected cases were sent to the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine for laboratory confirmation.

Where it's happening: Diomedes Remitar, the Malapatan health chief, said the reported measles deaths within the 3-week period were based on information gathered from barangay health workers and village officials of sitios Lower and Upper Kyogam, Mahayag, Lino, Datal Nai, and Alna of Barangay Upper Suyan.

Aside from these areas, the DOH said some cases were also from the sitios of Alnaob, Mission, Klarak, and Dlandang, also in Barangay Upper Suyan.

Federico Yadao, medical technologist at the Sarangani Provincial Health Office said Wednesday that part of the reason why health workers are having trouble checking and confirming the cases was the geographic isolation and distance of the barangay.

"Upper Suyan is roughly 3 hours ride but reaching the nearest Sitio Alna would take 7 hours trek. It takes another 5 more hours of trekking to get into the farthest Sitio Upper Kyogam," he said.

What the DOH is doing: The health department during its investigation carried out supplemental measles immunization activities. The DOH also provided treatment to those who showed signs of the disease.

The department's response team was able to vaccinate about 295 children so far during their two deployments to the area.

Yadao said an investigation was also being conducted on why so many people had been affected by the disease but added that they initially suspect the people's behavior towards immunization was a contributing factor.

Why it matters: The DOH has repeatedly reminded the public to go to their nearest health care providers for a measles vaccine, as measles is a vaccine-preventable disease.

In 2018 alone, measles outbreaks had been declared in Negros Oriental, a barangay in TaguigZamboanga CityDavao Region, and Davao City

As a response, the DOH launched its "Ligtas Tigdas" supplemental measles immunization program last April. The supplemental immunization program was done to achieve "herd immunity" status, where people who already have measles will be "walled off" from the rest of the population.

The program, however, saw the DOH fall below targets, with few children vaccinated. DOH National Immunization Program manager Maria Silva earlier said this was because many parents were still scared of the government's free vaccines almost a year after the Dengvaxia controversy. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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