Faced with a “staggering” rate of infection placed at 5,100 cases per week, the Philippine Department of Health (DoH) on Tuesday declared a national dengue epidemic that has so far claimed the lives of at least 622 people since January.
The announcement came three weeks after the DoH issued a national dengue alert following a spike in reported cases of the mosquito-borne viral disease.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said 146,062 dengue cases were recorded nationwide from January 1 to July 20, or 98 per cent higher than those reported in the same period last year.
“It is important that a national epidemic be declared to identify where a localised response is needed and to enable the local government units to use their quick response fund to address the epidemic,” Duque said at a press briefing at the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) in Camp Aguinaldo.
‘No national emergency’
Dengue is caused by a virus carried by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. It has four known strains and can be fatal. There is no known cure.
The infection triggers a severe flu-like illness, often followed by a severe drop in a patient’s blood platelet count.
Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said a national emergency or state of calamity had not been declared, noting that there were “just areas where there are many cases of dengue”.
Samar is the latest province to declare a state of calamity, allowing it to use part of its calamity fund to help contain the illness. Zamboanga Sibugay, Cavite, South Cotabato, Leyte and Eastern Samar earlier made the declaration.
Some cities and municipalities have also declared a state of calamity. These include the Island Garden City of Samal and Iloilo city, and the towns of Rizal and Sofronio Espanola in Palawan, Pontevedra and President Roxas in Capiz, Maasin in Iloilo, Culasi and Sabaste in Antique, and Tantangan and Norala in South Cotabato.
Lorenzana said that as chair of the NDRRMC, he had issued a memorandum circular “enjoining all member-agencies to support the nationwide dengue epidemic response”.
He directed all agencies to support the efforts of the DoH and “stop the epidemic or eliminate this epidemic once and for all because as the secretary of health said, the number [of dengue cases] is ‘staggering’”.
Based on a DoH dengue surveillance report, Western Visayas has the biggest number of cases with 23,330, followed by Calabarzon with 16,515. Zamboanga Peninsula reported 12,317 cases, Northern Mindanao 11,455 and Soccsksargen 11,083 cases.
Seven regions – Calabarzon Mimaropa, Bicol, Western Visayas, Eastern Visayas, Zamboanga Peninsula and Northern Mindanao – have exceeded the epidemic threshold, while Ilocos, Central Visayas and the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao have surpassed the alert threshold level.
The surge in dengue cases has prompted a group of doctors, scientists and health professionals to call on the government to lift the ban on Dengvaxia vaccine and allow its limited private use.
The Doctors for Truth and Public Welfare issued the call on August 1 after the presidential Malacanang Palace said the Duterte administration was open to resuming the use of the vaccine.
Dengvaxia was banned in 2017 after its manufacturer disclosed that the vaccine could cause severe dengue in patients with no prior exposure to the virus.
As for the possibility of using Dengvaxia in helping stop the epidemic, Duque said the World Health Organisation had not recommended the vaccine as an outbreak response.
He said Dengvaxia was not cost-effective at 1,000 pesos ($19) per dose and was not aimed at the most vulnerable age group – five to nine years old.
“It is not recommended for mass vaccination because there is no reliable test that would establish prior dengue infection. If there is, this particular test cross-reacts with several other viruses,” the health secretary said.
“Who knows that severe dengue reaction will not occur in a particular individual? So there’s a risk,” he said.
Besides health professionals, a group of patients is calling on the government not to deprive the public of its right to access medicines, including Dengvaxia.
“We hope that we could go back to preventing dengue because there’s a vaccine for it. Let us not politicise the issue because a majority of those who are dying [from dengue] are children,” Ma Fatima Lorenzo, president of the Lorenzo Philippine Alliance of Patient Organisations, told reporters on Tuesday.
In Cagayan de Oro city, Dr Adriano Suba-an, acting health director for Northern Mindanao, said 15,995 dengue cases had been monitored in the region from January to August 3, an increase of 62 per cent from the same period last year.
At least 60 deaths have been reported.
In Southern Mindanao and Soccsksargen, Digos city posted the highest number of dengue cases in Davao del Sur, while Kidapawan city also registered the biggest number of cases in North Cotabato. PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER