DOH to declare measles outbreak over only when vaccination target reached

MANILA, Philippines – Nearly 3 months since a measles outbreak was declared in several regions in the country, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the Department of Health (DOH) would only lift that declaration when the target vaccination coverage rate of 95% is reached.

In an interview with reporters Monday, April 28, Duque said although health officials have seen a decrease in the number of new measles cases recorded nationwide, the DOH still needed to reach vaccination targets before it could lift the outbreak status in communities.

“So far it's under control but I still don't want to say that the outbreaks are over. You can probably do that at a more localized level but not at the regional or national level. Mag stay pa rin [ang outbreak status] (The outbreak status stays),” Duque said.

The DOH, along with other government agencies, is currently waging a mass immunization program to stop the spread of measles. The anti-measles campaign aims to achieve a vaccination coverage of 95%, which translates to some 13 million people immunized.

Their target is to reach a 95% coverage rate, which translates to some 13 million people. This is divided into 3 subgroups: children 6 to 59 months old, 3.7 million;
children from kindergarten to grade 6, 7 million; and adults, 2.6 million.

Duque said health workers have been able to vaccinate 93% of the target of the youngest sub-group, which is  3.7 million babies.

Meanwhile, vaccination efforts for children from kindergarten to grade 6 were also ongoing in health centers, and would resume in schools once classes open in June 2019.

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

Latest data from the DOH showed there were 31,056 confirmed cases of measles and at least 415 deaths due to the disease as of April 13, 2019. (READ: PH among top countries with highest increase in measles cases – Unicef)

Risking complacency: Health officials have been cautious of declaring the measles outbreak as "over" as they feared doing so would spur "complacency" in the vaccination campaign and dampen the public's interest in availing the measles vaccine.  (EXPLAINER: When should one get vaccinated against measles?)

Among the factors which led to the outbreak of measles were decreasing immunization coverage rates seen throughout the years and the reluctance of parents to have their children vaccinated in the wake of the Dengvaxia dengue vaccine controversy.

As a result, health workers have had their work cut out for them as they trooped to communities and knocked on thousands of doors to ensure children were vaccinated.

While their work has paid off, Duque urged them to continue, saying it would be difficult to reach communities that would assure the DOH met its targets.

“Let’s not stay in health centers but actually go to deep, far communities that are hard to reach as parents there cannot readily bring their children to health centers,” Duque said in Filipino.

He added, “The last mile is traditionally the most difficult…. these are the hard to reach areas, whether in the urban poor or rural communities.” – 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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