By DAWN PEÑA
MANILA — A group of health advocates opposed the recent proposals to bring back anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia to the market, enjoining the public to prioritise preventative measures instead of relying on medicinal cure.
“Dengvaxia will not put a stop to the Dengue outbreak that we are experiencing right now. Vaccines only have a long term effect, it will take a couple or several years for it to affect the outbreak,” said community doctor Dr. Joshua San Pedro.
The Department of Health (DOH) declared a state of epidemic on Tuesday, Aug. 6, following the steady increase of Dengue cases in the country.
San Pedro, who is also the co-convener of Coalition for People’s Right to Health (CPRH), recalled that during the nationwide mass vaccination programs conducted by health department from 2015 to 2017 in schools, there were instances when those who have never been infected by Dengue were vaccinated.
This stems from the evidence presented by Sanofi Pasteur, the manufacturer of Dengvaxia, which shows an increase in incidence of hospitalization and severe illness in vaccinated children never infected with dengue.
Access to universal healthcare
To combat the increasing number of Dengue cases in the country, the Department of Health launched a 4S campaign that aims to guide the public on preventing dengue-causing mosquitoes to breed in their area.
The campaign 4S stands for “search and destroy” mosquito-breeding sites, employ “self-protection measures”, “Seek early consultation”, and “support fogging/spraying” in hotspot areas to prevent an impending outbreak.
However, Dr. San Pedro reiterated that these measures may not be taken by the majority with regard to the lack of an accessible healthcare.
“For example, with seeking early consultation, there are a number of factors that may hinder patients from going to a health center. First is distance, especially in rural areas which don’t have a barangay health station that can serve the residents,” he added.
He also enumerated financial capacity, transportation, and lack of income on days when they are ill or care for other patients as other causes for patients not to see a doctor on the onset of fever.
Dr. San Pedro also added that with the Search & Destroy, logistics can be a huge concern. The number of health workers that will launch the program is critical to its success.
“We lack barangay health workers, and those that we have are overworked and underpaid. Health services are also extremely undermanned especially in regions,” he said.
Dr. San Pedro said these preventive measure will only take effect if local government units will prioritize its implementation, and that the budget allocated for health services should be used for the salaries of barangay health workers and community physicians.
Bringing back the confidence of the public
Dr. Julie Caguiat, Secretary General of Community Medicine Practitioners and Advocates Association (COMPASS), stated that early on doctors have dissented on the mass vaccination programs in 2016 as the vaccine was still in its Phase III trial stages then.
“That was well documented in the Congress and Senate hearings, yet until now no has been held accountable on the Dengvaxia fiasco,” she said.
COMPASS also showed their support to the health workers who administered the vaccine, who faced injustice by being involved, under strict DOH directive, to implement a program with plenty of red flags.
Dr. Caguiat added that their group is still calling for a comprehensive response to dengue.
“The DOH should bring back the confidence of the public. It is not enough to just report on cases of Dengue, but they have to be proactive in combating the outbreak. They know that vaccines are only a small part of the solution,” she said.
She also stated the importance of education and transparency within the government agency regarding programs that will be given to the public, “that health workers from the grassroots up should know why they are doing it and be able to explain their campaigns to their patients.”
CPRH, for its part, underscored its call to strengthen the public health care system to ensure free health services to dengue patients; equip all health units with the necessary personnel, medicines, and other needs; strengthen preventive health programs and services such as environmental sanitation and massive health education in all barangays; and increase the health budget for all facilities in the frontline.