An outbreak of measles in the Philippines has killed nearly 200 people – mostly children – and infected thousands of others, according to health officials who said Friday they expected to contain the disease’s spread within the next two months.
At least 189 children aged four years or younger have died in Manila and surrounding areas, while some 11,459 others have been infected since the government declared an outbreak in early February, the Philippine health department said, citing an official tally.
The Department of Health (DOH) had earlier cited a 550 percent rise in the number of patients infected with the disease, from Jan. 1 to Feb. 6. The spike was blamed on a dengue vaccination scare in 2017 that prompted many parents to take their children off the government’s immunization program despite warnings, officials had said.
A massive vaccination program ordered by President Rodrigo Duterte would likely reverse the epidemic, Health Secretary Francisco Duque said.
“We pray and hope that there really is an end to this but we are looking at bringing up herd immunity to 95 percent,” Duque told the reporters on Friday.
“As soon as we get anywhere near that connective protection or immunity, we are looking at about the first week of April [for] a reversal of the outbreak trend,” he said.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has included the Philippines on a list of the top 10 countries with the highest number of measles cases, and has urged parents to take their sick children to the nearest health facilities.
“Since the declaration of an outbreak in five regions, a surge in the number of measles cases is observed [to be] caused by the rapid spread of the disease, which is highly contagious,” the U.N. health agency said Wednesday.
According to WHO, with the large number of infected children in the Philippines, there was a risk of measles spreading abroad.
The global health agency praised the Philippines for its quick response in trying to contain the outbreak.
“There is risk of international spread and several cases of measles have already been reported from other countries following travel to the Philippines,” the WHO said.
The government had blamed the uptick in measles cases after its immunization program suffered a setback following the Dengvaxia vaccine scare in late 2017. Dengvaxia was a drug developed by French firm Sanofi Pasteur to counter dengue, a mosquito-borne disease that is potentially fatal.
But the government halted its use after Sanofi admitted that those injected with it risked contracting severe dengue if they had no prior infections.
The Philippines, a tropical country, was the first in Southeast Asia where Dengvaxia was publicly released. Then-president Benigno Aquino approved its release before he stepped down in 2016, and the vaccine was administered to children in public elementary schools.
The health department recently said that that 830,000 school children aged 9 years and older were given the drug, a revision from an earlier estimate of 740,000.
The scare led to a 60 percent drop in vaccination coverage, with many parents refusing to have their children vaccinated out of fear of complications.