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Low Vaccination Coverage Leads to a Rise in Diphtheria Cases

Diphtheria is a serious infection that affects the nose and the throat.
IMAGE WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/PIXABAY
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This year, a slew of deadly diseases have resurfaced in the Philippines. As of May 2019, there were 34,950 cases of measles in the country. In August, there were 167,607 cases of dengue nationwide. In September, the Department of Health (DOH) declared a polio epidemic. Barely two weeks after its declaration of a polio epidemic, the health department announced another disease that has reemerged in the country: diphtheria.

What is Diptheria?

According to the Mayo Clinic, diphtheria is a serious bacterial infection that affects the nasal passages and the throat. A person with diphtheria will experience sore throat, fever, swollen glands, and weakness. The hallmark sign of the illness is the formation of a thick gray mucus at the back of the throat. In severe cases, diphtheria can cause chest pains and heart failure.

In a senate hearing this week, Anthony Calibo, medical specialist at the DOH, revealed that, aside from the reemergence of polio in the Philippines, diphtheria is another disease that has seen a significant rise in reported cases. “In the last few months, we have also discussed as well several cases of diphtheria emerging as well in some regions of the Philippines,” said Calibo.

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Diptheria cases began to dwindle in the 1920s, especially in developed countries, when vaccine against the disease was developed.

The Philippines’ herd immunity is weak.

One of the reasons why diphtheria and other diseases reemerged in the Philippines is the country’s low vaccination coverage. According to Calibo, the DOH also has its hands full when it comes to immunizing Filipinos.

“Clearly, the statistics has been really alarming. And I think it's more of really how a good complement of human resources will be able to muster that momentum from top down. Because right now, the immunization program is really understaffed,” said Calibo.

With the country’s immunization program compromised, consequences are becoming very apparent with the emergence of once-defeated diseases like measles, polio, and now diphtheria. One of the reasons why these diseases are making a comeback is the weak herd immunity of Filipinos.

Herd immunity is a population’s resistance to the spread of diseases, achieved through a very high vaccination coverage among the population. When a large portion of the population is vaccinated, chains of infection are likely to be disrupted, in effect, protecting those who do not have immunity against certain diseases.

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According to the DOH, the Philippines’ polio immunization coverage is only 66 to 68 percent, way below the international standard of 95 percent to achieve herd immunity. To achieve herd immunity, vaccination coverage needs to be at 84 to 94 percent, depending on a disease’s ability to spread.

Government slashed health budget.

Despite the alarming rise and reemergence of serious diseases in the Philippines, the government continues to deprioritize the health department, cutting its annual budget. In 2018, the government slashed P14 billion from the department’s 2019 budget. The budget cut was supposed to be P31 billion. Yesterday, former health secretary and now Iloilo representative Janette Garin revealed that the health budget for 2020 was cut by P16.6 billion, according to a report by ABS-CBN.

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Mario Alvaro Limos
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