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DOH holds emergency meeting on high measles cases in Rizal

MANILA, Philippines – Health Secretary Francisco Duque III held an emergency conference with Calabarzon health officials and local officials in Rizal to address the high number of measles cases in the province over a month since an outbreak was declared in the entire region.

During an emergency meeting on Monday, March 18,  Duque urged Rizal officials to step up immunization efforts, and reiterated to them that vaccination was the surest way to prevent the spread of the disease.

“We have the capability, we have the manpower, the funds and logistics…. There should be no excuse,” Duque said.

The health secretary stressed that a “well-focused, strategic” solution was needed to address the ongoing outbreak. 

“If we do not do something about this, other vaccine-preventable diseases cases will rise and it will...be a tremendous concern in the future,” Duque added.

Rizal cases

In a phone interview  on Wednesday, March 20, DOH Calabarzon Regional Director Eduardo Janairo told Rappler Rizal still saw a high number of measles cases despite reaching its target vaccination coverage of 95%.

Calabarzon's epidemiology and surveillance unit recorded 2,737 measles cases and 121 deaths in Rizal province alone from January 1 to March 19 this year. That's 7,503% higher than the 13 cases and 6 deaths recorded in the same period last year.

The number of measles cases in Rizal accounts for nearly half of the total cases  in Calabarzon, where 5,646 cases were recorded as of March 19.

Rizal province reported some 96% of children targeted in its measles immunization activity were already vaccinated as of Wednesday, March 20.

Children are among the priority of the DOH’s mass immunization campaign as they have been the most affected by the highly contagious disease. Most of the cases and deaths recorded nationwide involved children less than 4 years old.

Factors

Janairo explained major factors behind the high number of measles cases in the province, including its proximity to Metro Manila, the first area where the DOH declared an outbreak on February 6.

Measles is highly virulent that for every person with the disease, about 12 to 18 people may be infected, according to the United States Center for Disease Control.

Another factor, Janairo said, was the large number of members from the Dumagat tribe in Quezon province who were now in Tanay and Antipolo City in Rizal. In December 2018, the DOH saw a rise in measles cases in General Nakar, Quezon, but Janairo said health officials had difficulty immunizing individuals in the area due to security concerns.

Janairo said members of the Dinagat Tribe in Upper and Lower Lumutan in General Nakar now in Rizal have yet to get vaccinated against measles. (READ: EXPLAINER: When should one get vaccinated against measles?)

The DOH also cited resettlement areas in Rizal that are hard to reach. Health workers had difficulty accessing these areas for the door-to-door immunization activities.

Janairo also cited  security concerns, as health officials often need the support of barangay officials to ensure the safety of their health workers.

Janairo said people in resettlement areas were not included in the official target population for immunization in the province as many families only stayed in the area temporarily.

He said additional health workers have been deployed to assist in door-to-door immunization activities in Rizal, including resettlement areas. There were also additional fixed vaccination sites set up in several communities. – Rappler.com 

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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