After the devastating effects of various calamities that visited the Philippines in 2009, yet another one looms over the country. A measles epidemic threatens our children, and only early vaccination can stem the tide.
Caused by a member of the paramyxoviridae family, this highly contagious disease is spread via airborne droplets. While a safe and cost-effective vaccine is available, measles still remains one of the leading causes of death among young children and affects more than 20 million people each year. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that in 2008, there were 164,000 reported measles deaths (under the age of five) globally, making it 150 deaths every day or 18 young lives snuffed out every hour. While an aggressive worldwide vaccination campaign targeting nearly 700 million children resulted in a 78% drop in deaths between 2000 and 2008, it still occurs in low-income countries with weak health services. In 2004, the local campaign called Ligtas Tigdas inoculated many Filipino children and reduced measles cases and deaths by over 96%.
Spread via coughing or sneezing, measles can also affect adults who were never naturally infected or were not previously vaccinated, but severe measles often affects malnourished children lacking vitamin A or with weak immune systems. Serious complications arising from measles include severe diarrhea, dehydration, ear infections that can lead to deafness, severe respiratory infections like pneumonia, eye infections that may lead to blindness or even encephalitis. Outbreaks of the disease are common in countries that have experienced a natural disaster when routine health services become interrupted and overcrowding at evacuation centers increases the risk of transmission/infection.
With the crowded conditions at many evacuation centers endured by several Filipinos who were affected by Ondoy and Peping, it is inevitable that a measles outbreak will happen. As of March 3, 2010, four infants
have died from the disease. There have been 954 reported cases of measles from January 1 – February 20 of this year, compared to 330 cases reported the same period last year –making it a 189% increase in cases throughout the country. Metro Manila has the most number of cases at 431 from 74 during the same period last year, while other regions with high number of cases are Western Visayas, Bicol, Calabarzon and Central Luzon.
But with a proactive campaign to inform the public of available and affordable vaccines, spearheaded by the Department of Health and GlaxoSmithKline, healthcare practitioners hope to arrest the spread of the disease as mothers bring their children to barangay health centers or a clinic near them. The measles vaccine is often incorporated with rubella (german measles) and/or mumps vaccines and is equally effective in the single or combined form. Two doses of the vaccine are recommended to ensure immunity, as about 15% of vaccinated children do not develop full immunity from the first dose. Women planning to get pregnant are also advised to get vaccinated against measles and german measles to prevent pregnancy complications and birth defects.
A new combination vaccine protecting against measles, mumps, german measles and chickenpox has also been made recently available by GSK. Chickenpox is also a common disease among children. The new vaccine is indicated for children 1-12 years old.
Help by spreading the word, and not the disease, and save a young child from becoming just another statistic.