Measles threat looms in Philippines as trust in vaccines declines

Just 7% of eligible children in conflict areas in the southern Philippines were immunized against measles this year, the WHO said. (File/Shutterstock)
Updated 03 December 2018
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Measles threat looms in Philippines as trust in vaccines declines

  • Measles cases jumped nearly fivefold to 17,300 in the 11 months to November versus last year’s figure
  • Just 7 percent of eligible children in conflict areas in the southern Philippines were immunized against measles this year

MANILA: Health experts on Monday warned against a possible outbreak of measles in the Philippines, as a disease long under control is fueled by patchy immunization programs and declining trust in vaccines.
Measles cases jumped nearly fivefold to 17,300 in the 11 months to November versus last year’s figure, mostly in conflict areas in the south, said doctors and officials of the World Health Organization (WHO).
“We have almost eradicated measles, but we are now seeing a rise in cases, because the trust in vaccines is declining this year,” Lulu Bravo, of the Philippine Foundation for Vaccination, told a meeting on media reporting on vaccines.
“This is disturbing,” she said, tracing the drop in confidence to political factors, among other reasons, but did not elaborate. “Filipinos are becoming scientifically illiterate.”
No deaths from measles were reported in 2014, she said, adding that immunization efforts in many countries had already stamped out the disease, like smallpox. Four children died from measles this year on the southern island of Mindanao.
Just 7 percent of eligible children in conflict areas in the southern Philippines were immunized against measles this year, the WHO said.
Last year’s five-month battle to liberate the southern city of Marawi from Islamic State-inspired rebels fed the surge, WHO experts said, adding that overcrowding in temporary shelter areas and migration worsened the problem, while vaccine penetration was low.
The conflict reduced the heart of the city of 200,000 to rubble, killing 1,109 people, mostly militants, and displacing 350,000, stirring concern the region could become Islamic State’s hub in Southeast Asia.
Anna Lisa Ong-Lim, head of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society of the Philippines, said 69 percent of children with measles this year proved to have had no immunization, for reasons such as their parents’ refusal.
She said the politics behind the controversial anti-dengue vaccine, Dengvaxia, was partly to be blamed for the low trust in the government’s mass immunization program, with health workers sometimes labelled “killers” in some areas.
“Definitely, it has affected the confidence on vaccines,” said WHO official Achyut Shrestha, adding that immunization coverage in the Philippines stood amid the lower reaches in the region, along with Laos and Papua New Guinea.
Last month, an opinion poll by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine showed just 32 percent of 1,500 Filipinos surveyed trusted vaccines, down from 93 percent in 2015.
The figure is this year’s only decline in a nation in the WHO’s Western Pacific region, home to 1.9 billion people across 37 countries.


India’s ruling party seeks to energise workers after state losses

“We realize that rural distress and employment generation are the key issues and we are working on them,” said BJP spokesman Gopal Krishna Agarwal. (AFP)
Updated 18 min 55 sec ago
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India’s ruling party seeks to energise workers after state losses

  • The government announces so-called minimum support prices for most crops to set a benchmark

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling BJP will try to canvass and galvanize its activists across India before a general election due next May, after losing power in three heartland rural states, senior leaders said after a meeting on Thursday.
Disgruntled voters blamed the slow pace of job creation and weak farm prices for the Hindu nationalist party’s defeat in the states, two of which it had ruled for three straight terms.
“We realize that rural distress and employment generation are the key issues and we are working on them,” said BJP spokesman Gopal Krishna Agarwal, who attended the meeting. “They’ll have to be tackled, and we will take suggestions from wherever needed.”
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) various wings — representing women, farmers, lower castes, Muslims and young members — will all hold deliberations after losses in the supposed stronghold states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.
“These meetings are aimed at preparing for the 2019 election and spreading the party’s message in various sections of society,” Bhupender Yadav, a BJP national general secretary, said after the meeting, which he said had been scheduled before the state election results came out on Tuesday.
He also announced that a planned national convention would be held in New Delhi on Jan. 11 and 12.
Senior BJP minister Nitin Gadkari told the ET Now business channel on Thursday that the agriculture sector may have been neglected under their government.

JOBS AND FARM PRICES
Agarwal, a chartered accountant who is also a director in a state-run bank, said increasing lending for job-generating small businesses was a key focus, as was enhancing procurement of grain from farmers by government agencies at state-mandated prices so there are no distress sales.
The government announces so-called minimum support prices for most crops to set a benchmark, but state agencies mainly buy limited quantities of staples such as rice and wheat at those prices, restricting benefits of higher prices to only around 7 percent of India’s 263 million farmers, according to various studies.
Following the state election setbacks, Modi’s government is expected to announce loan waivers worth billions of dollars to woo farmers, government sources told Reuters this week.
Agarwal said the party’s loss in Madhya Pradesh, known for multiplying agriculture production under three BJP governments, has reinforced its realization that higher output helps consumers by bringing down prices, but can badly hurt farmers.
“The focus has so far been on consumers, like importing onions when prices shot up,” Agarwal said. “Now we need to look at the producers, not just the consumers.”
He also said there was a case for fiscal stimulus, given that inflation fell to a 17-month low in November. Food inflation sank to a negative 2.61 percent from a negative 0.86 percent in October, according to official data released on Wednesday.