Recently, the party-list candidate group ANA Kalusugan staged a rally and press conference in Manila, holding the former in front of the Department of Health. They charged that the DOH was remiss in preventing the measles outbreak that recently claimed more than 180 lives. This outbreak may be blamed by some on the recent paranoia following the questionable Dengvaxia dengue vaccine implementation during the past administration. Some would say the DOH would be bogged down even if it tried to convince people to get vaccinated. But this is bunk, says ANA Kalusugan. They said the Department of Health knew that there was a drop in vaccinations last year and it could have mounted a campaign to convince people to have their children vaccinated. The agency could differentiate it from the Dengvaxia case easily, and it had all the funds and time to do it. Yet the DOH did nothing.
Arroyo administration cabinet secretary and ANA Kalusugan party list nominee Mike Defensor said the DOH spent all of its 2018 budget for immunization, which was worth P7.43 billion. An additional P634 million was set aside for advertising.
However, the immunization rate was only 39 percent, which means 2 million children didn’t get the vaccine, and it also suggests that efforts to dispel myths about vaccination were likely to be lacking. Aside from the lives lost, there are now over 18,000 cases of measles around the country compared to over 2,400 last year.
Defensor and his group also wanted an audit of the immunization fund.
The suspicion by critics on Dengvaxia was that the Aquino administration rushed its implementation of the vaccine, either because the provider Sanofi Pasteur wanted to see if it works (thus experimenting on inoculees), or to rush it as part of the government bolstering its “concern-for-health” image.
Fast forward to today, there were reports that deaths were caused by the Dengvaxia itself. Furthering suspicion was Sanofi Pasteur itself coming out with a warning that its vaccine should not be used on people who have not yet been affected by the disease.
In addition, Senator Dick Gordon last year found that the DOH bought the Dengvaxia vaccine without the use of Congress-appropriated funds. The DOH has denied that any of the deaths claimed to be of Dengvaxia are actually caused by the vaccine, although filed cases that still claim this continue to pile up.
There is no such controversy with measles, polio and other vaccines. However, vaccinations for these diseases have also experienced drops, and thus there is potential for more children and adults to be affected by these conditions.
ANA Kalusugan says the responsibility for the drop in immunization and consequent rise of those afflicted with vaccinable diseases rests on the shoulders of the DOH as the lead agency of the immunization program. It seems nothing they did differentiated these vaccines from Dengvaxia and encouraged people to avail of them. Instead, it chose to focus mostly on answering accusations by the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) led by Persida Acosta.
Measles outbreaks also continue around the world, reported in the United States, United Kingdom, Madagascar, Canada, Australia and other countries.
This is partly blamed on the anti-vaxxer movement, which was fueled in part by a study in the British Journal Lancet by Andrew Wakefield in the 1990s that claimed vaccines caused autism. The study was retracted by the journal in 2010 after investigations found Wakefield’s methodology fraudulent. Despite this, many people continue to subscribe to narratives that vaccines not only cause autism, but that they are part of a secret effort to try and cull populations.
To date, none of these narratives have been proven.
As our webmaster Benign0 said, the discussion on the Dengvaxia mess should have been less on finding who’s responsible for the Dengvaxia scare and more on what to do regarding other vaccinations.
A well-orchestrated information and persuasion campaign would have sufficed to convince people to come in and have themselves or their children vaccinated. Sadly, politicization of the issue has only helped to bog down any efforts to persuade people that Dengvaxxia is different from other vaccines.
Things like these show how health seems to be driven in the back seat these days.
Too bad we are not in the days of Juan Flavier, who as a health minister campaigned vigorously to bring physical and mental health to the national consciousness. ANA Kalusugan tries to bring back this kind of consciousness.
Both physical and mental health are important parts of our personal and societal well-being.
Mental health service especially is one thing I personally would like to see improved, and at least ANA Kalusugan has that on their agenda. We also be wary of myths about health, similar to the anti-vaxxer movement, which one of our bloggers has written about before.
Health issues, especially where government is concerned, will continue to be politicized. However, this should not stop Filipinos from pursuing the best for their health. This includes checking up with government health agencies to make sure they’re doing their job.
Our own health is something that we are all responsible for, in an age where lifestyle-based illnesses are common. As I said in my earlier post about mental health, sometimes what happens to us can be a result of our own doing, and that can apply to all of life aside from health.