Friday, February 8, 2019

Social Commentary: Lessons from Vaccination Scare and Disease Outbreak



It was on February 6, 2019 that the Department of Health declared an outbreak of measles disease in the National Capital Region including regions in Luzon; Central Luzon and CALABARZON. Just a day after, it was declared that the outbreak expanded in the Visayas; Central, Eastern and Western Visayas.

The disease outbreak is just a year after the controversial Dengvaxia scare with several deaths of children linked with the Dengvaxia: a vaccine for Dengue.

Although it was not medically proven through studies and investigation by the Department of Health, still the Public Attorney's Office headed by its Chief, Persida Acosta defended the human rights of her clients when she insisted that it was indeed Dengvaxia vaccine caused the death of children who received it.

How the deadly controversy started

It was revealed late last year by Acosta  that the President himself ordered her office to pursue on filing a criminal complaint to several personalities of the past administration who are allegedly involved in the Dengvaxia controversy and that includes former President Aquino, Former Department of Health Secretary Garin and the present DOH Secretary Duque.

Since then Acosta actively pushed for public information on the dangers of  Dengvaxia and the vaccination program, and this controversy led to discouragement and fear against vaccination. 

Dr. Acosta has the interest to fight for the rights of her clients and to follow his excellency, the President. As a Doctor of Social Development, she has the expertise and advocacy for human rights and legal aid; that I believe where she is coming from on this matter.

From Advocacy to Disaster 

Apparently, Acosta's advocacy went wrong when her allegations about the Dengvaxia-related deaths caused a sudden drop in immunization records of the DOH starting in 2018 until the present. Parents are scared to have their children get vaccinated by Dengvaxia and even other vaccinations including MMR vaccines (Measles, Mumps and Rubella) which has caused an epidemic of measles in several regions in the country and was reported to be thousands of cases and several deaths already. 

Disinformation and fake news can kill

With the Dengvaxia scare, over 2 million Filipino children are currently at risk of contracting measles which is a highly contagious airborne disease causing respiratory complications that can be lethal. 

This would not have happened if there was no mass hysteria coming from several personalities from broadcast media and social media. The disinformation easily spread and was accepted by their followers to be an absolute truth. 

Nowadays, thousands or millions of Filipinos are a victim of fake news or disinformation with social media in particular. Social media influencers has to be responsible for their words or statement so not to create confusion, and also for followers and the general public to learn how to decipher real news from the fake ones.

Turn around of circumstances

With the rising number of measles cases across the country, the Department of Health and President Duterte himself have step up to lead a campaign on national television for families to have their children get vaccinated from diseases. The public call was followed by Vice President Robredo and now, the Chief Public Attorney, Persida Acosta who seemed to be remorseful when she expressed to the public not to be scared of vaccination to spare children from getting measles considering its alarming rates: a step she made just after the call for her resignation by our Senators and some people. 

Our leaders have the biggest role to play in all of these circumstances affecting the state of health of the Filipino children. They may have reflected on their shortcomings and they are now doing their part to correct the mistakes they have caused. For the Chief Public Attorney, her sudden active campaign for vaccination may not be an admission of guilt, hence taking responsibility for her actions if her advocacy to fight for her clients led to health crisis our country is facing. 

Our Call to action 

May this health crisis serve as a call to other media personalities and social media influencers to do the same thing and to stop from disinformation campaign causing trial by publicity and untoward events and worst is loss of lives. We have lost the confidence of our people in our Government's immunization campaign and it might take time for others to regain the trust.

Full immunization is very important in developing immunity against highly communicable diseases. Imagine if all children received full immunization, we are closer to eradicating diseases like measles.

We have already eradicated diseases like polio, maternal and neonatal tetanus, hence we can also achieve a measles-free country and eradicate other diseases through full immunization. It may be a challenging task for our healthcare workers, but with the active campaign of our government and the cooperation of the public, the goal can be achieved. 

As a Healthcare advocate, I want to protect my family and the public through health education for them to live their best life that they deserve. Whoever we are, we have the capacity to become a health advocate and our advocacy can create a ripple effect towards a healthy citizenry and community. 

© 2019 Del Cusay


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