The death toll from a measles outbreak in the Philippines has reached at least 261, with the number of confirmed cases exceeding 16,000 since the start of the new year, health officials said Tuesday.
Three regions around the capital Manila accounted for most of the cases, Health Undersecretary Eric Domingo said. On Tuesday, the Philippine Department of Health released its latest figures on the number of fatal cases and confirmed cases of measles covering the period from Jan. 1 until March 2.
The United Nations had warned earlier that the outbreak in the Philippines and other affected countries would likely have “disastrous consequences for children tomorrow” unless more was done to boost immunization campaigns.
“This is a wake-up call. We have a safe, effective and inexpensive vaccine against a highly contagious disease – a vaccine that has saved almost a million lives every year over the last two decades,” Henrietta Fore, executive director of the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said in a recent statement.
Apart from the Philippines, Ukraine, Brazil, Yemen, Venezuela, Serbia, Madagascar, Sudan, Thailand and France had also shown an upsurge of measles cases, Fore said.
Fore said that in the Philippines, the government, would conduct a campaign to vaccinate nine million children against measles across 17 regions.
The Philippine government had blamed the rise in measles cases to a vaccination scare in late 2017. At the time, French pharmaceutical firm Sanofi Pasteur admitted that its dengue vaccine, Dengvaxia, could cause side effects, which could lead to severe dengue to anyone injected with it who had no prior infections.
The Philippines was the first country 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 nearly a million children in public elementary schools.
Mark Navales contributed to this report from Cotabato City, Philippines.