National health alert in Philippines after over 450 dengue deaths
A file picture shows Filipino mother covering the face of a child during chemical spraying to eradicate mosquitos as part of intensive anti-dengue campaign of the Pest Exterminators Association of the Philippines (PEAP) at a slum area in Manila, Philippines, Jun.8, 2017. EPA-EFE/FILE/FRANCIS R. MALASIG
A file picture shows Filipino protesters display placards as they stage a demonstration at the Sanofi Pasteur office to protest the drug company's deal with the government on the controversial anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia, in Manila, Philippines, Mar.5, 2018. EPA-EFE/FILE/FRANCIS R. MALASIG
Manila, Jul 15 (efe-epa).- Philippines on Monday declared a national alert due to a dengue outbreak, with over 106,630 cases recorded in the first half of the year and 456 deaths, most of them children under five.
The incidence of dengue has grown 85 percent with respect to the same period last year, Health Secretary Francisco Duque said in a press conference on Monday.
Duque said that there was an epidemic in four regions of central Philippines but added that it had not reached national proportions yet.
The minister announced that the Department of Health had already activated code blue - national alert - in coordination with the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office to monitor the situation.
The minister urged people to seek medical attention at the first sign of dengue symptoms, which include fever, severe joint and muscle pain, nausea, rashes and bleeding.
"Usually, they (patients) are brought to the hospitals rather late. Complication third stage has already been reached,” he said.
Duque stressed early detection was crucial for dengue treatments because in advanced stages patients suffer hemorrhage, internal bleeding and their hearts and other organs are affected.
Dengue is the world's fastest-growing infectious disease causing an average of over half million potentially fatal infections annually and around 20,000 deaths, most of them children.
In late 2017, the Philippine government suspended the use of Dengvaxia, a dengue vaccine used in public vaccination programs, especially in schools, after its manufacturer, French pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur, admitted that it carried adverse effects and posed health risks to people.
The scandal worsened after the death of several children, who had been vaccinated although neither the pharmaceutical company not the Philippine health authorities confirmed the relationship between the deaths and the vaccines.
The Dengvaxia scandal caused widespread fear of the vaccine in the country, where the immunization rate dropped from an average of 70 percent in recent years to 40 percent in 2018.
The declining immunization rate also triggered a serious measles outbreak in the Philippines in early 2019 with more than 38,500 cases and 521 deaths, especially of children below five.
Although there has been a gradual decrease in the number of infections, the epidemic is yet to be eliminated.
In the wake of the epidemic, the country's health authorities began an intense immunization campaign that aims to reach 13 million children under 12 in order to prevent infections.
However, Duque recently admitted that only 10 percent of the target has been reached so far.