Millions of children at risk as death toll rises in Philippines measles outbreak

Manila / Kuala Lumpur / Geneva, 14 March 2019 – An estimated 3.7 million children under five in the Philippines are at risk during a measles outbreak that has already claimed 286 lives, most of them children or babies, the Red Cross is warning.

Deaths from measles are already 42 per cent higher this year than for all of 2018, when 202 people died. It is estimated that 3.7 million children under five have never been vaccinated and have no protection to the highly contagious virus, which is still spreading. Health experts estimate that every person sick with the measles could infect up to 18 others.

Philippine Red Cross Chairman Richard Gordon said:

“We are in the grip of a measles outbreak that, tragically, is hitting the very young hardest. The Red Cross has been crucial in restoring people’s confidence in vaccines, which makes it easier now to convince parents to get their children vaccinated. But we are aiming for a 100 per cent immunisation rate.”

Of 286 deaths so far this year, 110 have been of babies under nine months old. The median age of those who’ve died is just two years old.

Since 10 February, the Philippine Red Cross, supported by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), has been working with the Department of Health to support patients and their families. The Red Cross has set up tents with cots and bedding to reduce over-crowding and give care to measles patients. It has set up welfare desks, portable water and sanitation facilities, and hygiene equipment inside hospitals. The Red Cross has also called for volunteer doctors and nurses to help during a mass vaccination campaign. The aim is to ensure vaccination of all children aged six months to five years.

Head of the IFRC Philippines Country Chris Staines said:

“With experts warning that the outbreak could last for months, potentially not stabilising until May, many more lives are at risk. This is a preventable tragedy. We have no time to lose and no time to be complacent. We need to support Philippines Red Cross staff and volunteers today in their life-saving actions.”

The Philippine Red Cross has a strong capacity to complement the government’s response to the outbreak, with over 2 million volunteers. Red Cross staff and volunteers are already playing a key role informing, educating and warning communities about the early signs and symptoms of measles, and what action to take.

The Red Cross has already given vaccinations to more than 13,500 children. But to be able to support the Department of Health to protect all children aged six months to five years in the highest risk areas as soon as possible, IFRC is appealing to donors and partners to contribute 2 million Swiss francs (1.9 million US dollars / 105 million Philippine pesos).


About measles[1]

Measles is a highly contagious infectious disease caused by a virus. It affects mostly children but people of any age who have not been vaccinated against measles can be infected.

Measles spreads very easily. The virus lives in the nose and throat mucus of an infected person. It can spread to others through coughing and sneezing. The virus can live for up to two hours in an airspace where the infected person coughed or sneezed.

People usually get sick about 10 to 12 days after getting infected with the virus. The symptoms include red eyes, runny nose, fever (as high as 1040F/ 400C) and skin rashes for more than three to seven days. Infected people are most contagious from about four days before their rash starts until four days afterwards. Complications include diarrhea, middle ear infection, pneumonia, swelling of the brain, malnutrition and blindness. Complications may lead to death.

There is no specific treatment for the virus, although severe complications can be avoided.

Measles can be effectively prevented by vaccination. According to the WHO, between 2000 and 2017, measles vaccination resulted in an 80 per cent drop in deaths worldwide. In 2017, about 85 per cent of the world's children received one dose of measles vaccine by their first birthday through routine health services – up from 72 per cent in 2000.


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