[OPINION] Mistrust in vaccination reflects mistrust in broken health system
The Department of Health should stop blaming parents amid the measles outbreak in several regions in the country. It should instead be honest about its failure in the government’s vaccination programs over the past few years, as pointed out by civil society groups and international organizations such as the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund.
Repeated warnings over low vaccination rates and poor delivery of health service show that this public health failure was waiting to happen, perhaps regardless of Dengvaxia.
The problem with the health department’s attempt at public relations is that to allay fears about Dengvaxia in the light of the measles epidemic, one has to restore the eroded trust not just in vaccination but in the broken health system. And that involves 3 important things:
- Grounded and sensitive health education in all communities.
- Ensuring health services that are available, accessible, free, comprehensive and progressive.
- Accountability for failed policies, namely, the Dengvaxia fiasco in itself, as well as the shortcomings in vaccination way before 2016.
The matter of vaccination should be a given thing in a society that promotes health as a right; meaning, it should be readily available and free to those who need it the most, regardless of politics or economic standing.
Meanwhile the DOH and healthcare workers – especially those on the frontlines – must adopt a stance that goes to the level of the people, dispensing acceptable and sensitive advice that does not dismiss genuine concerns and fears as mere superstition or ignorance. Health workers should start where the community is, in order to begin mending the broken trust.
We must shy away from blaming parents for what may be legitimate grievances that stemmed from the inefficient and faulty mass vaccination program of Dengvaxia. The risks that the vaccine may have in children not previously infected with dengue (seronegatives) are clear, yet the government remains mum on their responsibility towards the children who should not have been inoculated.
The fear stoked by the lack of accountability cannot be quelled by diverting the issue from the root cause of the alleged hysteria, especially when there have been gaps in achieving vaccination targets for several years.
Ultimately, servants of the people must be ever ready to accept criticism and be sincere in correcting past mistakes. We continue our efforts to bring health services to the communities while calling on our health leaders to be more transparent and accountable in order to prevent yet another public health disaster. – Rappler.com
Dr. Joshua San Pedro is a graduate of both Anthropology and Medicine from the University of the Philippines. He is a co-convenor of the Coalition for People's Right to Health and a community physician for the Council for Health and Development, working with community-based health programs across the country.