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UNICEF: Measles and pertussis outbreaks a wake-up call for PH

by Kiko Cueto

As the world commemorates World Immunization Week, the Philippines is experiencing measles outbreaks in the Bangsamoro region and pertussis outbreaks in parts of Luzon and Visayas, while nearly 70 percent of provinces and cities are at high risk of polio. All three are highly infectious diseases for children. 

Recently, the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao embarked on a Measles Outbreak Response Immunization at the beginning of the month after declaring the outbreak mid-March. 

The region had already reported more than 500 measles cases before the start of the campaign on 1 April. This number is already half of the cases reported for almost 2023 and could be much higher, troubling for a region that has great aspirations for its children and future. 

The outbreak response, extended beyond its original two-week run, saw varying levels of support by local authorities, with some experiencing governance issues that yielded uneven vaccine coverage. 

Health workers stretched to the limit suffer crippling heat from El Niño as they conduct house-to-house vaccinations. Some Bangsamoro health workers received vaccine refusals and deferrals during the measles campaign due to misconceptions and vaccine fatigue.

A year before the regional parliamentary elections, the health of thousands of Bangsamoro children hangs in the balance. Beyond controlling the measles outbreak, routine vaccines for children, such as polio and diphtheria, must be administered to achieve herd immunity and improve the prospects of the Bangsamoro people. The region has the lowest health, nutrition, education, and other well-being indicators as compared to its peers in other parts of the Philippines. 

Courtesy: DOH

“Immunization is one of the crucial components of a robust health system. On the 50th year of the Essential Programme of Immunization, we’ve gone from a world where the death of at least one child was something every parent expected to a world where every child has a chance if they get their vaccines. To stem the outbreak, we urge leaders to go to the hardest-hit communities to see with their own eyes the many challenges being faced by families and health workers,” UNICEF Philippines Representative Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov said. 

To support the measles and pertussis outbreaks, UNICEF is helping the emergency procurement of two million doses of measles vaccines, fielding immunization coordinators, cold chain managers and social mobilizers in the poorest performing provinces, engaging community leaders to address refusals, and providing cold rooms to keep the vaccines potent, among others. 

One million measles vaccines are projected to arrive in the coming weeks, with a million more expected in the coming months.

To end vaccine-preventable diseases among children, UNICEF calls on the national and regional government to address both supply and demand challenges. It must improve predictability of stock-outs of vaccines, employ more vaccination teams, provide better support and compensation for barangay (village) health workers, and prepare the health system for shocks such as disasters and climate change. 



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