Measles immunization in BARMM targets 1.3M kids

At least 1.3 million children in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) will be vaccinated against measles, the humanitarian aid organization United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said.

Reportedly, 77 percent of the confirmed measles cases in the Philippines this year was recorded in the Bangsamoro region. Between January 1 and March 20 this year, the region has officially reported 592 cases of measles, UNICEF data showed.

The major measles immunization drive in the BARMM started Monday, 01 April, and expected to be completed this April 12, with Maguindanao del Sur, Lanao del Sur and Marawi City as priority areas.

The BARMM Ministry of Health will vaccinate children in all three priority areas and subsequently, cover all other areas, with support from the Department of Health (DOH), as well as the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF.

The BARMM is also composed of the provinces of Maguindanao del Norte, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi and the cities of Cotabato and Lamitan.

In response to Health Secretary Dr. Teodoro J. Herbosa’s request for quick action against the measles outbreak, UNICEF committed to help buy one million doses of measles vaccines for BARMM.

“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,” UNICEF Representative to the Philippines Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov said in a statement.

Health workers will give measles shots to children in the region aged 6 months to 10 years.

Dendevnorov said that UNICEF will also help procure another one million doses of measles vaccines for the rest of the country. Children aged six 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.

Apart from its direct effect on the body, which can be lethal, the measles virus also weakens the immune system and makes a child more vulnerable to other infectious diseases like lung, brain, and ear infections, diarrhea, and blindness.

The cost to the healthcare system as well as lost family income when caring for sick children is expensive.

According to state-run Philippine Health Insurance Corp., it may cost up to P40,000 per pneumonia case – the commonest measles complication.

On the other hand, it costs the government P200-300 to vaccinate a child with measles vaccine. The vaccines are provided free to the population.

“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,” Dr. Zul Qarneyn Abas, BARMM Deputy Minister for Health, said in the same statement.

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.

“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 five years of age,” said WHO Representative to the Philippines Dr. Rui Paulo de Jesus.

“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,” he added.

In 2023, only 60 per cent of the eligible children received their first dose of the measles vaccine in BARMM. Only 51 per cent of children got a second dose, according to UNICEF.

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

Failing this, many children grow up unprotected – only to catch measles later with protracted community transmission and periodic outbreaks, the aid agency said. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)

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