Measles outbreak, who is to blame?

“The failure of the measles eradication program is but a reflection of the glaring disconnect between national health programs and the actual health situation.” – Kilos Bayan Para sa Kalusugan


MANILA – Community health workers stormed the Department of Health (DOH) main office on Wednesday, Jan. 8 protesting the department’s failure to eradicate measles.

“DOH should not be too quick to blame the victims and should own up to its own failure in its measles eradication program,” said Albert Pascual, spokesperson of Kilos Bayan Para sa Kalusugan.

KBK in a protest action in front of DOH (Photo from CHD)
KBK in a protest action in front of DOH (Photo from CHD)

There is an outbreak of measles in nine cities in the National Capital Region (NCR). The DOH declared measles outbreaks in Manila, Caloocan, Las Piñas, Malabon, Muntinlupa, Navatos, Parañaque, Taguig and Valenzuela. Reports revealed that 1,742 persons were afflicted with measles, and 21 have already died.

Pascual slammed the DOH for not being able to meet its target of eradicating measles by 2008 – 10 years after the “Ligtas Tigdas” measles immunization program was launched. In 1998, the Philippine government gave a commitment to the World Health Organization to undertake a 10-year measles vaccination program, which aimed to achieve zero measles cases by 2008.

Meales is an infectious viral disease that afflicts mostly children. Vaccinations of measles are given free in community health centers for babies between six months and 48 months old. This should be followed up by booster shots, but these are not available in some health centers.

Outside of NCR, more cases of measles were reported. In Southern Luzon there were 436 recorded cases of measles and 282 cases in Western Visayas. Majority of those afflicted are children below the age of five. Pascual said 85 percent of those affected had no history of previous measles vaccination.

“The failure of the measles eradication program is but a reflection of the glaring disconnect between national health programs and the actual health situation. The program only relied on compliance to vaccinations,” said Pascual. He added that the outbreak shows how the DOH has failed to connect how the socio-political environment affects the health of the nation.

“The failure of those afflicted to have themselves vaccinated before is not solely due to their parents’ decision not to avail of free immunization from health centers. The failure to get vaccinated may also be due to the inaccessibility of health services and the general lack of health knowledge,” Pascual said. He pointed out that poverty increases the susceptibility of the ordinary Filipino to these kinds of diseases. Malnutrition, for one, he said “exacerbates the disease’s effects on the body, while unaffordable health care and medicines make it difficult for patients to recover from it.”

These factors, Pascual said, should be considered during the formulation of programs to attain long term solutions. “It’s frustrating that the DOH cannot man up to admit its mistakes and would rather blame the patients for its failures,” Pascual ended.

Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate also slammed DOH for its “very disappointing response” in the wake of the measles outbreak . “With an increased budget now of the DOH, it is really disappointing and very sad that this is the kind of response we get from the department. It is even doubly disappointing considering that it is the children who are primarily suffering and affected by this disease.”

He said it is the health department’s job to prevent such an outbreak. “The DOH should have also gone on an early house to house immunization drive when they monitored that the measles cases began to spike,” Zarate said.

He said the budget of the DOH increased this year. Rep. Zarate hopes that these funds can be judiciously used to prevent another outbreak. “As of now the DOH has an P80.8 billion ($1.805 billion) budget for 2014 — this is almost P30 billion ($670 million) more than what it got last year. They even have a quick reaction fund of P304 million ($6.7 million).”

What is measles

Measles is an airborne disease most commonly acquired by children ages one to nine years old. Symptoms of measles include redness of the eyes, coughs and colds, fever reaching 40 degrees Celsius, and rashes on the ears, face, neck, and the whole body, and difficulty of breathing. Health Assistant Secretary Eric Tayag also said flu-like symptoms are sometimes present before the rashes appear on the body.

A person who has measles can easily transmit the virus through coughing, sneezing, or the discharge of saliva. One patient can infect as many as 18 persons, especially those who have not been vaccinated. The DOH urged those who have measles to refrain from going out to public places as they can infect other people, most especially pregnant women.

According to an article, measles can infect women during their pregnancy, most especially if they never had measles before or never had been vaccinated against measles in the past. Measles can infect and kill the unborn. It is recommended that pregnant women have measles vaccination.

According to the WHO, there is no specific treatment for measles. However a person who has measles should still see a doctor to cure the cough and colds, and to prevent complications like diarrhea and pneumonia. Doctors recommend that patients should drink a lot of water to avoid dehydration. Recovery from measles may take two to three weeks. (

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