Senator Nancy Binay on Sunday urged the Department of Health (DOH) to be cautious in its efforts to quell the public scare brought on by reports of high costs and shortage of the vaccine against Japanese encephalitis (JE).
“To date, Japanese encephalitis has claimed nine lives in our country. While this number might not be alarming to the DOH, it has caused many parents to worry over their children’s susceptibility to the disease. I urge the DOH to look into quelling the public’s fears through a comprehensive information campaign,” Binay said.
“Health is a sensitive issue and must be treated with care. The DOH must remember this in its efforts to address the issues surrounding Japanese encephalitis,” she added.
The senator made this call as public clamor for vaccines against JE mounted, prompting the DOH to issue warnings against purchasing vaccines from unknown sources as well as administering it during the rainy season when it is said to be less effective.
According to reports, stocks of the JE vaccine are running low due to the sudden rise in demand from the public. This has caused many to look for alternative sources of the vaccine, prompting the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to issue a warning against buying JE vaccines which are of questionable quality and may even pose health risks.
“If it is not recommended for the vaccine to be administered during this time, the DOH must intensify its efforts to spread this information to the public. Because while there are efforts to do this, many are still looking for other ways to procure the vaccines despite warnings against doing so,” Binay pointed out.
“Dapat maagapan ito ng DOH bago pa man magkagulo lalo ang ating mga kababayan. Sa Laguna na lamang kung saan mayroon nang namatay dahil sa sakit na ito ay may report na nagkakaubusan na ang stocks ng bakuna, dahilan para magpanic ang ilan sa ating mga kababayan,” said Binay.
JE is a viral disease spread by the Culex mosquito from pigs and waterbirds. It targets the nervous system, causing high fever, headache, stiff neck, disorientation, paralysis, seizures, coma and even death.
The DOH has recorded nine deaths due to the disease this year. Four of these were reported in Pampanga, two in Zambales, two in Pangasinan, two in Laguna and one in Nueva Ecija. These are part of a total of 133 cases of the disease recorded from January 1 to August 26. Out of the 133 cases, 53 were from Central Luzon while 22 cases were recorded in Pampanga.
There is no cure for JE and the World Health Organization (WHO) has earlier said that most survivors of the illness experience physical, learning and behavioral disabilities, and cognitive and language problems.
The DOH recommends the vaccination against JE as well as the use of insect repellents, mosquito nets and clothes with good coverage as preventive measures. But while the agency has pointed out that “vaccination is the best way to prevent JE”, it only plans introduce the vaccine into the national immunization program come 2018.
Imojev is the only brand of JE vaccine in the country to date and can cost P2,500 to P4,000 per shot, depending on the hospital where it is availed of.
The WHO has recommended that vaccination against JE be integrated into national immunization schedules in areas where the disease is considered as a public health issue. The agency warns that the case-fatality of this disease can be as high as 30%, meaning three out of 10 patients could die.
“Sa ngayon, sana ay paigtingin ng DOH ang information campaign nito upang ma-educate at mapawi ang pangamba ng ating mga kababayan. Isa pong public health issue ang Japanese encephalitis kaya nararapat lamang na pagtuunan ito ng pansin ng ating pamahalaan,” Binay said. | SENATE- PR