Health authorities rushed to set up medical tents and field hospitals in the southern Philippines Tuesday, as the number of infections rose rapidly, two weeks after a national dengue epidemic was declared in the Southeast Asian nation.
Almost 800 new dengue causes were reported across the northern part of Mindanao island, the Philippines’ main southern island, over the weekend, according to the regional health office. This brought the number of dengue patients nationwide to more than 170,000, including 17,700 in the region, as of Aug. 17, health officials said.
“There are still no signs that the dengue cases are going down. We are still in the danger zone,” David Mendoza, head of the regional epidemiology and disaster response unit, told reporters.
Overall, the number of deaths attributed to the mosquito-borne disease has reached 720 nationwide, from just 622 deaths earlier this month, the health department said. About 70 of the new fatalities were recorded in northern Mindanao.
Among those on top of the list of locations where dengue infections were detected were the provinces of Bukidnon, Misamis Oriental and Occidental, Lanao del Norte, and the island province of Camiguin, the regional health department said.
Iligan City, which is about two hours southwest of Cagayan de Oro, has also seen an alarming rise of dengue cases. The city ranks 4th in the region in number of dengue cases and tops the list in terms of death percentage.
Eleven people have died thus far due to dengue in Iligan, and eight in Cagayan de Oro city.
“The rapid increase in dengue cases and deaths in Iligan requires an immediate action. We, at the Red Cross are taking such action to ensure that the needs of the most vulnerable are addressed,” said Sen. Richard Gordon, who is also the head of the Philippine National Red Cross.
He said that medical tents would be erected outside the Gregorio T. Lluch Memorial Hospital in Iligan, which had requested immediate Red Cross assistance. This could help decongest several nearby hospitals catering to patients affected by dengue.
The Department of Health in Manila officially declared a dengue epidemic in the country on Aug. 6. Dengue fever and dengue hemorrhagic fever are acute viral infections that are known to affect infants, young children and adults. They are transmitted by a bite from an Aedes aegypti mosquito infected with any one of the four dengue strains.
The World Health Organization last month said that the number of dengue infections would likely rise due to the delayed onset of the monsoon season, when mosquitoes are known to thrive.
Dengvaxia, manufactured by French firm Sanofi Pasteur, is the only dengue vaccine licensed globally, but it has been banned in the Philippine since December 2017. At least 14 Filipino children died out of more than 800,000 inoculated with Dengvaxia between 2016 and 2017, Philippine health officials said.
The vaccine was administered to tens of thousands of school children nationwide, but was discontinued after the firm said it caused severe infections among those who were vaccinated but had not previously contracted the disease. However, a Sanofi regional director told a Philippine congressional panel in 2018 that the drug was safe for public use.
President Rodrigo Duterte early this month said he was open to the idea of lifting the ban on Dengvaxia to stem the rise of dengue-related deaths.
“I am open to the use of Dengvaxia again,” the president said two days after the health department declared a dengue epidemic. “There are plenty of deaths. It’s an epidemic.”
He said he was waiting for the recommendation of health experts regarding the matter and that he would be guided by “Filipino scientists and doctors” in making that determination. As of Tuesday, there has been no recommendation to lift the ban on Dengvaxia.
Joseph Jubelag in General Santos City contributed to this report.