Measles outbreak in Philippines

Amid vaccination fears, a measles outbreak in Philippines has claimed 136 lives and 8400 others have fallen ill.

Background

Measles is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus which can be spread through sneezing, coughing and close personal contact. While global measles deaths have decreased by 84 per cent worldwide in recent years — from 550,100 deaths in 2000 to 89,780 in 2016 — measles is still common in many developing countries, particularly in parts of Africa and Asia. 7 million people were affected by measles in 2016. The overwhelming majority (more than 95%) of measles deaths occur in countries with low per capita incomes and weak health infrastructures. There is a sharp rise in developed countries due to low rate of immunization. 

Analysis

The Philippine health secretary said that 136 people, mostly children, have died of measles and 8,400 others have fallen ill in an outbreak blamed partly on vaccination fears. About half of the 136 who died were children aged 1 to 4 and many of those who perished were not inoculated, the officials said.

A massive immunization drive that started last week in hard-hit Manila and four provincial regions may contain the outbreak by April, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said. President Rodrigo Duterte warned in a TV message of fatal complications and urged children to be immunized.

Infections spiked by more than 1,000 per cent in metropolitan Manila, the densely packed capital of more than 12 million people, in January compared to last year, health officials said

Duque said a government information drive was helping restore public trust in the government’s immunization program, which was marred in 2017 by controversy over an anti-dengue vaccine made by French drug maker Sanofi Pasteur, which some officials linked to the deaths of at least three children.

The World Health Organization has warned that efforts to stop the spread of measles globally have been hampered in part by anti-vaccine scepticism. The number of cases around the world was up about 50 per cent, according to the WHO.

President Trump also has expressed scepticism over vaccines, having invited Andrew Wakefield, a doctor who has suggested a connection between the MMR vaccine and autism. Darla Shine, wife of White House communications head Bill Shine defended measles and other childhood diseases, arguing that they “keep you healthy & fight cancer.”

Assessment

Our assessment is there is a rise in the outbreak due to the spread of misinformation about immunisation. A debunked study that tied immunisation to autism is making rounds in social media. It can be noted that WHO names ‘vaccine hesitancy’ as one of the biggest global threats if 2019.