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.


EU leaders’ decision on Brexit delay unlikely this week: Juncker

Updated 44 min 11 sec ago
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EU leaders’ decision on Brexit delay unlikely this week: Juncker

  • The delay, nearly three years since the United Kingdom voted to leave the EU, leaves the Brexit divorce uncertain

BERLIN: European Union leaders are unlikely to agree at a summit this week on a delay to Britain’s departure, and will probably have to meet again next week, the head of the bloc’s executive branch said Wednesday.

British Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to ask Brussels for a delay to Brexit, currently scheduled for March 29, ahead of the EU summit starting Thursday. Details remain unclear, but May’s troubles deepened when the speaker of the House of Commons ruled earlier this week that she can’t keep asking lawmakers to vote on the same divorce deal they have already rejected twice.

Britain’s political chaos is causing increasing exasperation among EU leaders. Asked by Germany’s Deutschlandfunk radio what May would need to secure a delay this week, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker replied that “she must bring approval of the negotiated deal and she must bring clear ideas on timing.”

“My impression is ... that this week at the European Council there will be no decision, but that we will probably have to meet again next week, because Mrs. May doesn’t have agreement to anything, either in her Cabinet or in Parliament,” Juncker added.

“As long as we don’t know what Britain could say yes to, we can’t reach a decision.”

A delay to Britain’s withdrawal would require the approval of all 27 remaining EU countries. Juncker said that “in all probability” Britain won’t leave on March 29, but underlined the EU’s insistence that it will not reopen the painstakingly negotiated withdrawal agreement that British lawmakers have snubbed.

“There will be no renegotiations, no new negotiations and no additional assurances on top of the additional assurances we have already given,” he said.

“We will keep talking to the British. We are not in a state of war with Britain, we are in a state of negotiations, but the negotiations are concluded.”