Healthbeat 2002 No. 1.jpgHealthbeat 2002 No. 1.jpg

In 2001, a mutant strain of poliovirus emerged with three cases Monitored in different parts of the country. Soon after the discovery of polio cases in Cagayan de Oro City, Laguna and Cavite, MalacaƱang ordered the vaccination of 12 million Filipino children on the first weeks of February and March. (Philippine daily Inquirer – PDI, January 9)

In a news report, the World Health Organization (WHO) called on Philippine authorities to be on guard against a possible outbreak. The WHO said the Philippines is the fourth country to experience a re-emergence with the other three being Egypt, Haiti, and Dominican Republic. (Manila Standard, January 10)

As news reports said that some 12 million children are in grave danger of being infected with the new polio strain, Senator Ralph Recto noted that the Department of Health (DOH) needed a budgetary shot in the arm to increase its funds for immunization against polio. Recto said that the DOH only has P376 million for 2002 to fund the immunization of only 2.1 million children against deadly diseases that include polio. (now-defunct Manila Meteor, January 10)

It was reported that for the 2002 polio immunization drive, the DOH would be going house-to-house to ensure that all 12 million children would be vaccinated. The agency assured the public that DOH has the 14.5 million anti-polio doses needed for the February phase of the campaign. (PDI, January 19)

Meanwhile, to penetrate areas with armed conflict to ensure the total eradication of the new poliovirus, the DOH met with officials of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) who vowed to accompany health workers in areas where armed conflict is ongoing. The PNP and AFP reportedly agreed to provide DOH security and assistance as health workers go through war-torn areas. (Daily Tribune, January 26)

News reports said that to support the campaign, the Philippine Army declared an unofficial ceasefire to assure the success of the vaccination drive. The Army also offered to transport the vaccines and escort health workers to far-flung areas. (PDI, February 2)

The media reported that with over 55,000 health workers and volunteers, the DOH delivered its anti-polio campaign nationwide to the most crowded areas, even to prayer rallies. During the first day of the February leg of the campaign, Health Secretary Manuel Dayrit visited Taguig and attended the El Shaddai prayer rally to promote the immunization drive. (Daily Tribune, February 3)

However, it is not all positive news as factions in some remote areas in the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) reportedly hampered the campaign by (spreading the rumor that) the vaccine contained a time-released poison meant to cleanse Mindanao of Muslims; thus they do not want to subject their children to immunization. (Philippine Star, February 9)

Some news reports also said health workers encountered problems in administering the vaccine to street and slum children. It was reported that there are homeless parents, who live in tunnels, under the bridges or in boxes out in the streets, who resist having their children vaccinated. (PDI, February 9)

Nevertheless, the DOH declared the campaign a success. Media reports said that “the first round of the anti-polio drive reached its target with an almost 100% coverage. (Manila Time, February 21)