Negros Oriental declares measles outbreak

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The local government of Negros Oriental declared a measles outbreak in the province on Tuesday, March 6.

This was confirmed to reporters by Department of Health (DOH) Undersecretary Enrique Domingo in a chance interview. 

"Nag-declare na ng outbreak ang provincial health office ng Negros Oriental. Today sila nag-declare," he said. (The provincial health office of Negros Oriental already declared the outbreak. They declared it today.)

Which cities and municipalities reported measles cases: Domingo explained the outbreak was declared after the local government received various reports of measles cases in the following areas: 

The Negros Oriental provincial government, however, has not yet announced the exact number of measles cases so far.

Why the declaration was made: Domingo said it was necessary to trigger the response of the DOH. 

"Kasi clinically, mukhang measles talaga 'yung cases. Kaya lang, iko-confirm natin sa laboratory para lang sigurado na, para mas targeted 'yung ating response," said Domingo. (Clinically, it looks like the cases are really measles. But we still have to confirm in the laboratory so we are sure, so that our response will be targeted.) 

He previously explained that ideally, there should be zero cases of measles because it is a vaccine-preventable disease. "So even if we have just one to two cases, it is considered an outbreak and transmission must be controlled." 

What the DOH is doing: The DOH undersecretary said they already deployed teams to monitor the reported cases of measles in the 7 areas in Negros Oriental.

"We are going to send the teams and then monitor and then get samples to confirm," said Domingo. 

Once the cases are confirmed, Domingo said catch-up vaccination efforts in the province will begin. 

Other areas with a measles outbreak: Negros Oriental is the 4th major area in the Philippines to declare a measles outbreak. 

Before that, a measles outbreak had also been declared in a barangay in Taguig City, Zamboanga City, Davao Region, and Davao City.

(UPDATE: After Negros Oriental, a city near its border with Negros Occidental, Kabankalan City, also declared an outbreak.) 

Why it matters: Parents are now refusing to avail of government health programs, including free vaccination, for their children following the panic brought about by the controversial Dengvaxia dengue vaccine. 

Dengvaxia was used in the now-suspended dengue immunization program, which was launched in 3 regions in April 2016.

Less than two years later, French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi Pasteur announced Dengvaxia may lead a person to develop severe dengue if he or she had not been infected by the virus before vaccination.

Domingo said on Tuesday that Dengvaxia may be "partly" to blame for the lower measles immunization rate in Negros Oriental.

"Well partly, because in January, February [we had] low coverage. But there has been some low coverage talaga (really) in the past. So we cannot say that this is just in the last quarter," said Domingo.  

Duque already ordered health workers to "woo" parents to continue having their kids vaccinated for other diseases. (FAST FACTS: What is measles, and how can it be prevented?) – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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