(Feature) DOH: Why is the government investing in public health through vaccines and vaccination programs?

April 14, 2016 3:33 am 

By Leilani S. Junio

MANILA, April 13 (PNA) — The government cannot turn its back and close its eyes to vulnerable families needing protection against dengue and this is the reason why the Department of Health (DOH) is investing in vaccines and vaccination programs to curb the incidence of vaccine- preventable diseases.

This is the gist of the statement of Health Secretary Janette L. Garin when she launched this month the first-ever free public immunization program for dengue fever in the country at a public elementary school in Marikina City.

The free Dengvaxia immunization program seeks to administer to a million schoolchildren the world’s first licensed vaccine against a mosquito-borne disease that the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates affects 390 million people a year globally.

“Masakit mang aminin, meron at meron pa ring namamatay dahil sa dengue at di pwedeng pumikit ang gobyerno at di pwedeng talikuran ng departamento (DOH) ang panahon at sitwasyon kung saan kayo (mahihirap na pamilya) ay nangangailangan,” Secretary Garin said.

According to the DOH chief, “delaying the act of giving the free vaccine” is something that they cannot afford to do because they believe that such programs have great impacts on the lives of the Filipino children who deserve to be protected and cared for.

It can be recalled that under the Health Agenda of the administration of President Benigno S. Aquino III, the government is investing on various vaccination programs through the school-based immunization, aside from the regular immunization programs being done to those not in school-age population through government health centers/clinics.

The immunization programs being given in the health centers not only to children but also to pregnant women and senior citizens are part of the goal of enhancing prevention of diseases to minimize the cost of health care and treatment in order to fit also with its promise of not leaving behind, especially the poor or marginalized sectors, in reaping the fruits of economic development.

“Hindi po tayo magpapahuli dahil ang buhay ng ating kabataan ang nakataya dito,” Secretary Garin said in her speech delivered at Parang Elementary School in Marikina City last April 4.

In the same occasion, she also gave various presentations on why there is a need for dengue vaccination and some clarifications to those who are criticizing the said program which targets nine-year-old grade 4 pupils in the National Capital Region, Calabarzon and Central Luzon.

Children studying in public schools in the mentioned regions become the target for the program because said areas recorded high incidence of dengue cases in the past years.

Prior to the availability of the Dengvaxia vaccine, there is no prophylactic medicine against dengue disease.

Parents or relatives of children who got sick of dengue before had even gone to a sort of “painful nightmare” that they dubbed themselves with “dengue phobia” (fear of dengue) because of the emotional and financial burden that it could cause to a family, especially those whose income is not even enough to sustain the cost of hospitalization, medicines and carry some consequences such as loss of productivity because they need to get absent from work.

In addition, children who got sick also lost their chance of continuous learning because of the absences incurred while recuperating from the sickness.

What is more, there are four strains of dengue and having one does not protect a person from getting the other three remaining strains in a lifetime because the other three strains are just waiting to be passed on through bites of dengue mosquitoes as months or years go by.

In other words, chances of having dengue up to four times is a challenge that can affect the chances of poor families to improve their conditions due to financial burden, not to mention the emotional problems that it will also entail because it is painful to see children suffering from the life-threatening dengue.

On top of that, the mosquitoes that transmit the dengue are of course present in the country which obviously make the children more susceptible to dengue disease.

While there have been some vectors control measures done and the DOH has been intensifying calls and partnerships for the vector control, still, undeniably, the mosquitoes can multiply faster and sometimes the people also tend to forget their role and contribution to the mosquito spread which can transmit dengue.

With the availability of the new dengue vaccine, there is hope that children who are immunized with it can be protected from the dengue disease and reduce the need for hospitalization.

Aside from that, children who will be immunized with it can somehow become “protective instrument” to shield others from the disease because they cannot become the source as the vaccine somehow gives them the power to “cut” the source because if they are not infected with dengue, mosquitoes will not be able to transmit the dengue disease to others.

By making the vaccine available to the targeted children in the three regions, DOH just adheres to the call of providing the free vaccine to the people who cannot afford to set aside a portion of their very small income to avail of it.

Understandably, the vaccine, since it is still newly introduced and acknowledged as the first dengue vaccine in the world, it is being made available in private hospitals and clinics at a price that only the rich or those who have the means can afford.

Children of ordinary Juan dela Cruz, therefore, no matter how much they will want also to have it, cannot afford to buy it because a family will choose to prioritize first their other immediate needs rather than have it at a cost they cannot afford.

With that, Secretary Garin said that the Executive department has fulfilled its "will power" to bring the vaccine free to the poor and somehow reduce the health inequity because it is also equally important that just like the rich who can avail of the dengue vaccine in private health institutions, the poor should also have access to it, especially the vulnerable ones.

“Dahil kung ipapasa natin ang obligasyon sa bawat pamilya, kawawa iyung di makaka-afford. Meron tayong Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), mayroon tayong education programs, livelihood programs, scholarship programs, at iba pa, kaya dapat isinasama rin natin doon ang programang pangkalusugan. And we are very thankful that health has been considered in the forefront of the Aquino government,” she stressed.

The free dengue vaccination was made possible as a result of negotiations between the top officials of the country and the manufacturer (Sanofi Pasteur) of the Dengvaxia vaccine, wherein the latter agreed to have a sort of corporate social responsibility wherein it will be providing the vaccine at a “discounted price” so that it will be a part of the school-based immunization program of the government.

The DOH also said that in terms of consistency and efficacy, the vaccine underwent more than 20 years of research studies, analyses and actual clinical trials involving 40,000 patients/subjects in 15 countries that are endemic for dengue all over the world.

“Hindi po ginawa ang research studies and clinical trials ng isa o dalawang taon lamang. (This was not done in just one or two years),” the Health Chief said, citing that all such trials were done with much care and had detailed recording of everything, including the clinical reactions among those that were injected with the vaccine.

She further said that the study was very transparent because every detail like the reactions, monitoring of those who got involved in the trials in totality were all recorded.

In terms of allegations that said dengue vaccine had caused four deaths, the DOH said there was no truth to that because such deaths were not in any way related to the clinical trials and were due to accidents. (PNA)

SCS/LSJ/RSM

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