1.3M children in BARMM to get vax amid surge of measles cases

<p>File photo</p>

File photo

MANILA – Over 1.3 million children in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) will benefit from a free immunization drive from April 1 to 12 amid the surge in measles cases.

In a joint statement on March 28, the major immunization campaign for children aged 6 months to 10 years old will be conducted by the Department of Health (DOH), UNICEF Philippines, World Health Organization, and BARMM Ministry of Health (MOH).

At least 77 percent of the confirmed cases of measles in the Philippines have been reported in the BARMM, particularly in the densely populated areas of Maguindanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur and Marawi City.

The UNICEF will help buy 1 million doses of measles vaccines for BARMM and another 1 million “for the rest of the country.”

“Children aged 6 to 59 months will receive one dose of vitamin A, while those with confirmed cases of measles will receive two. Vitamin A is a low- cost way to prevent complications from happening and boost immunity against other illnesses,” the joint statement read.

“There is a critical need to reach and vaccinate the children missed during routine vaccinations. We have to make sure that no child is left behind in the BARMM. We have the support of many stakeholders, now it is up to us to lead in this fight against this deadly disease,” BARMM Deputy Minister for Health Dr. Zul Qarneyn Abas said.

DOH Secretary Dr. Teodoro Herbosa said President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. is keen on ending this measles outbreak under the new Bagong Pilipinas slogan.

The region has reported 592 cases of measles from Jan. 1 to March 20 this year.

“It is generally believed that the total number of cases in the community is much more. Last October, Lanao del Sur activated their emergency operations centers for a measles outbreak in all health units. In the same month, Marawi City declared a measles outbreak,” according to the joint statement.

WHO Representative to the Philippines Dr. Rui Paulo de Jesus, said WHO will coordinate and collaborate with partners at global, regional, and national levels to support DOH to vaccinate all the vulnerable populations.

“Measles is probably the most contagious disease known to affect humans. It can affect anyone, though it is most common in children. Data from the current outbreak has as many as 30 per cent of the cases above 5 years of age. Community-wide vaccination remains the most effective way to prevent measles. Urgent, targeted, and accelerated efforts are critical to reach all children with the necessary measles vaccine,” De Jesus said.

WHO has provided DOH with technical assistance based on global best practices for measles vaccination. This includes recommendations on vaccination strategies, guidance on the target populations, disease surveillance and health worker training.

UNICEF, on the other hand, has supported the region with vaccine procurement, deployed additional health staff, built cold chain capacity, engaged with religious and community leaders to address hesitancy and misinformation, among other forms of support.

“No child should ever die from vaccine-preventable diseases. Since last year, UNICEF has been actively supporting the accelerated prevention and outbreak response activities. We provided much-needed cold-chain equipment, training the health force, mobilizing religious, community and youth leaders so they can educate families on how best to protect children. We are ready to step up and do whatever it takes to ensure every child is vaccinated and protected,” said UNICEF Representative to the Philippines Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov.

In 2023, only 60 percent of the eligible children received their first dose of the measles vaccine and only 51 percent of children got a second dose in BARMM.

For the Philippines to be safe from the threat of measles, 95 percent of the infants must be vaccinated with two doses of measles vaccine at 9 and 12 months of age during routine childhood immunization.

“Failing this, many children grow up unprotected - only to catch measles later with protracted community transmission and periodic outbreaks,” the statement read.

“The agencies are calling for more investments where needed and to maximize existing resources in vaccine supply, human resources, and social behavioral change to address this and any possible outbreaks in the future,” it added. (PNA)