Fear and loathing
There are many reasons parents of young children do not have their offspring vaccinated.
Some may be firmly opposed to it, citing religious or philosophical reasons.
Others may simply be negligent, forgetting their children’s vaccination schedule or too lazy or busy to bring them to the nearest health center.
A good number, though, are afraid of vaccines and of the possible side effects.
Despite the decades that have passed and the general improvement in health outcomes worldwide, some basic diseases remain stubbornly, puzzlingly resistant to eradication.
One factor is parental ignorance or fear.
Mass immunization programs have successfully wiped out dreaded diseases, such as smallpox. Polio, a public health concern just decades ago, has, thanks to immunization drives, been largely eradicated.
That was the case, too, with measles. It was thought not too long ago that humanity was seeing the end of the disease, a “basic” childhood malady caused by an airborne virus that put the very young at risk, including babies still in their mothers’ womb.
But now measles is making a comeback: In some regions in the Philippines, the number of measles cases has soared, according to the Department of Health.
Bicol recorded 239 suspected cases of measles from Jan. 1 to Sept. 29, 2018 (a 292-percent increase compared to last year’s 61 suspected measles cases), six of which resulted in death. All six were not vaccinated.
“We have almost eradicated measles, but we are now seeing a rise in cases because the trust in vaccines is declining,” said Lulu Bravo of the Philippine Foundation for Vaccination.
The reason for this, authorities agree, is the controversy over a vaccine for another dreaded disease: dengue.
The hysteria whipped up over the deaths of some children allegedly as a result of having received Dengvaxia, as the new vaccine was called, seems to have induced fear and loathing, not just against the antidengue vaccine but all other vaccines.
Thus, the country is now seeing the deaths of children due to not just dengue (the number of which has risen) but also measles in alarming proportions.
For this, blame should be directed at the fevered claims made by some medical personnel — and even a lawyer masquerading as a doctor, down to wearing a lab coat during public appearances — that the deaths of some children and youth who had been given Dengvaxia were due entirely to the vaccine.
This is what hysteria and public posturing can do: kill those most in need of protection.
In the case of another dreaded disease, HIV/AIDS, the continued rise in cases is attributed not to hysteria whipped up by critics, but to fading public interest in and support for measures meant to address the disease decisively and humanely.
Time was when coverage of HIV/AIDS, or human immunodeficiency virus and acquired immune deficiency syndrome, was not just extensive, but also comprehensive.
From fear-based coverage that fed on ignorance of scientific facts, stories about the disease, but especially about the men and women that tested positive for the virus, progressed to discussions about the personal and social factors that abetted the spread of HIV/AIDS.
But there was a price to pay for the almost-blanket coverage of a few years ago. Public hysteria may have abated, but so did public interest. And with the fading of public concern came the disappearance or negligence of policy initiatives and, more important, funding support.
Another reason cited is easier access to social media, which presumably leads to easier hookups among vulnerable individuals, “contributing to the persistent spread of the virus.”
As it happens, the Philippines lies at the epicenter of the growing HIV/AIDS crisis. While many countries have managed to stabilize the numbers of new infections, in the Philippines HIV/AIDS continues to rise, with as many as 32 Filipinos diagnosed daily.
Indeed, the Department of Health says the Philippines has one of the “fastest growing” HIV epidemics in the world.
Even more alarming, most newly infected individuals come from “the younger, millennial generation,” Filipinos still in the bloom of youth, at the most productive and promising phase of their lives.
So, while the disappearance of the general hysteria around HIV/AIDS should be hailed, the Philippines still faces an urgent public health crisis, one that the country needs to face staunchly and determinedly — with the right resources, the right science-based mindset and approach, and a good dose of compassion and humanity.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.