Measles cases decreasing but outbreak not yet over – Duque

MANILA, Philippines – Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Wednesday, April 10, said that though the Department of Health (DOH) has seen a decrease in the number of new measles cases in the country, the ongoing outbreak is not yet over.

"Many municipalities have reported no new cases. Measles cases have begun to go down…[it is] under control but the outbreak is not yet over," Duque told Rappler in a phone interview.

Duque said no new cases have been recorded in some 150 municipalities since April 1 but the outbreak could not be declared over as health officials still need to reach its target vaccination coverage of 95%, which translates to some 13 million people. (EXPLAINER: When should one get vaccinated against measles?)

The health chief earlier said cases are only expected to subside once government achieves this target as it would ensure "herd immunity" where people who already have measles will be "walled off" from the rest of the population.

The DOH earlier declared a measles outbreak in Metro Manila, Central Luzon, Calabarzon, Western Visayas, and Central Visayas, but cases have been recorded all over the country

Health officials have been cautious to declare the measles outbreak as "over" as they feared doing so would spur "complacency" among the public to avail the measles vaccine.

The DOH, along with other government agencies, are currently mounting a mass immunization program to stop the spread of measles. (READ: PH among top countries with highest increase in measles cases – Unicef)

One of the challenges faced by the program is the parents' initial hesitation to to have their children vaccinated in the wake of the Dengvaxia dengue vaccine controversy. (READ: Love trumps fear: Payatas parents get babies vaccinated)

"We have to be very careful in our communication so it will not spur complacency," Duque said.

Health workers have had their work cut out for them. Immunization activities among children – who were most affected by the disease – have largely taken place as door-to-door vaccinations.

This means that for months, health workers trooped to communities and knocked on thousands of doors to ensure children were vaccinated.

Months after the immunization campaign started in February 2019, Duque said health workers managed to vaccinate its target of over 3.7 million children aged 6 to 59 months.

In a situation report, the United Nations Children's Fund said the DOH exceeded targets as 3,890,653 were immunized as of March 29. 

Duque said the DOH is now working to complete its target to vaccinate some 7 million children from kindergarten to Grade 6. He added immunization activities are ongoing in communities and will continue until classes resume in June.

The DOH earlier said it's possible the measles outbreak would be under control sometime between the end of April to start of May 2019. – 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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