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Editorial

State of the nation’s health

/ 05:30 AM July 26, 2019

Conspicuously absent in President Duterte’s State of the Nation Address this week is the dengue outbreak currently plaguing the country. Surely the state of the nation’s health deserves mention, especially since the Chief Executive repeatedly touted “quality of life” as one of the gains of his administration.

Just in case his speechwriters missed recent news, here they are again:

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From Jan. 1 to June 29 this year, 106,630 dengue cases have been officially reported nationwide—an 85-percent increase from the 57,564 cases reported over the same period in 2018.

On July 15, the Department of Health (DOH) declared a national dengue alert amid the surge in reported cases of the mosquito-borne viral illness. The most affected areas are Western Visayas with 13,164 cases, followed by Calabarzon (11,474), Central Visayas (9,199), Region XII or Soccsksargen 2 (9,107) and Northern Mindanao (8,738).

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As of July 20, six have died while over 1,834 have been downed by dengue in Palawan. The DOH has also recording 1,550 cases in Oriental Mindoro, 501 in Marinduque, 41 in Occidental Mindoro and 191 in Romblon, or a total of 4,117 cases.

With 4,225 suspected and confirmed dengue cases and 22 deaths since Jan. 1 in Cavite, its governor has placed the province under a state of calamity to expedite the release of funds for the purchase of blood supplies, intravenous fluids, diagnostic kits and other medical necessities.

The dengue crisis comes amid an ongoing measles outbreak that has seen a whopping 467-percent increase in the number of measles cases in the country in the first eight months of 2018, compared to 2017 figures. From January to April this year, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the DOH Epidemiology Bureau recorded 31,056 measles cases, from only 6,641 cases during the same period in 2018.

The direct cause of the breakdown in the government’s immunization program and the corresponding spike in dengue and measles cases is well-known: Mothers began hiding their children or refusing the free immunization offered by government health workers because of the hysteria and misinformation generated over Dengvaxia, the dengue vaccine formerly used in the government’s mass vaccination campaign.

Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) chief Persida Acosta’s reckless fear-mongering about Dengvaxia—despite what Duque said were “baseless claims,” and the DOH denying any established link between Dengvaxia and a number of children’s deaths Acosta said were caused by it—eventually resulted in a historic drop in immunization rates: From an average of 70 percent, vaccination coverage plunged to 40 percent last year, the DOH said.

With dengue patients now clogging the hallways of public hospitals, health and local officials can only scramble for short-term solutions, releasing information on how to prevent dengue-carrying mosquitoes from breeding and how travelers can avoid being bitten by the vector.

The current ban on the use of Dengvaxia and the lack of any alternative (“Wala tayong antibiotics, walang antiviral, wala rin tayong bakuna kontra dengue dahil inihinto ang Dengvaxia,” Duque was quoted saying on radio) means the DOH can only intensify its prevention efforts using the four strategic Ss, which stands for “search and destroy” mosquito-breeding sites; employ “self-protection measures,” such as wearing pants and long-sleeved shirts, and the daily use of mosquito repellent; “seek early consultation”; and “support fogging/spraying” in areas where an increase in cases is registered for two consecutive weeks, to prevent any impending outbreak.

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Meanwhile, the PAO chief, a lawyer who, at the height of the Dengvaxia controversy, made it a point to perorate on TV garbed in a white lab coat as if she was a medical professional, has been quiet of late. The usually overwrought insta-crusader for the supposed victims of Dengvaxia (“Don’t you feel the necessity [that] we should approach this problem [while] we are sober? Let’s not rile up emotions,” Rep. Ruffy Biazon told her off in one House hearing) has now turned into Our Lady of the Crickets—mute, tightlipped and impassive even as the country around her is in the grip of twin health emergencies traceable to her folly.

Perhaps another S should be added to the DOH’s program to prevent a repeat of a grossly irresponsible government official undermining public health this way. “So sue me,” Acosta had dared the department when it called her to account. Yes, please—attend to the outbreaks, then take up her dare.

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TAGS: Duterte, Killings, SONA 2019
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