by Rolex Alvero Elmido
On August 6, the Department of Health declared a national dengue epidemic, citing an all-time high on the number of dengue-infected people, running up to hundreds of thousands nationwide, and the corollary scary rise in the number of deaths from the disease.
There is no cure for dengue, health authorities said. Those who are afflicted with the disease are at the mercy of either a subsequent episode of healing or the doom of death. We seemed helpless as this affliction goes from worse to worst with the number of the affected people surging to an uncontrollable level.
How did it happen? And why? Seems nobody is asking. Or are we really that helpless? Not in terms of a cure because there is none yet, but on the issue of preventing the onslaught of the disease. In terms of prevention, we dare say we have the best fighting chance. At least on averting a national epidemic.
Health authorities are expert on prevention and they know its worth, based on past and present realities. The Philippines fell prey to dengue epidemic five times since 1926 until 1998, and one of the notable factors that caused the outbreaks is improper management and disposal of solid waste, similar to what triggered the spread of the virus this year.
This means that they are expected to be adept on what to do to avert a similar crisis from occurring anew. Also, they know more than anyone else that dengue fever occurs every year in the Philippines from July, peaks in August to September and then subsides towards November. Talking about expected event, the DOH is at its best well prepared for it, from prevention up to control of its escalation.
With this knowledge however, why the agency’s “inaction” at the onset of dengue? Is dengue really that unstoppable like the bubonic plague of olden times? Is the government and the public inutile to stop its spread, just watching helplessly while the deadly thing grows to a monumental mess?
Whatever is the reason that the DOH may have on this, we believe that the dengue outbreak is not an inevitable phenomenon. If the disease has no cure, then health authorities should have focused on prevention before dengue strikes. They must have stopped the disease from its roots. But why did they not act before the epidemic?
The DOH is one of the five government agencies that have the biggest annual budget. Why did it not use its resources fully in the prevention stage? Preventive measures are aplenty, such as the elimination of breeding places of dengue-carrying mosquitoes, and sanitation around residences, among others. These could have been done in tandem with massive information drive to educate the public in preventing dengue, even in all barangays in the country.
DOH could have pre-empted this sad eventuality if only it focused on prevention more than anything else. Now with the dengue epidemic gaining national infamy, the DOH and local government units are frantically implementing measures in response to the outbreak. Take note, it’s epidemic response they are now pushing for.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III recently said there is P500 million quick response fund ready for distribution to LGUs in the fight against dengue. He said the LGUs could use the millions of fund allocation “to mount an effective response” to the outbreak.
Now comes the big question: Does a particular LGU has the capability to contain dengue spread now than during the onset of the virus? Is an LGU capable of implementing an effective response to the epidemic? What would be the response then, and how could it be that effective? How will an LGU use its allocation of millions of money for the purpose?
These intentions of “response” is as hollow as the LGUs’ declaration of a state of emergency over dengue, which is simply to get more money at the pretext of dengue “response and prevention.”
Bring back the outlawed Dengvaxia? Even if some officials said this vaccine is not design for epidemic response? It is a vaccine only, and administered before the disease strikes. But why they are pushing for the President’s approval for its revival?
Clearly, the current dengue outbreak exposes the failure, or incapability, of the DOH to avert a devastating problem. This is one best example of an inept agency that tackles a problem after-the-fact or only when the event goes out of hand.
After the declaration of a national dengue epidemic, the DOH shifted its gears and funds, with the LGUs as its partners, to a heightened campaign. For what? Dengue prevention. There are now spates of cleanup drives across the country, and destruction of mosquito breeding sites, among others. As if we are still on the prevention phase of this mess.
Duque said further these activities are one of the “primary interventions to prevent and control dengue.” We dare ask him: Why only now? Too late. The epidemic had broken out. Prevention could have been done before, Mr. Secretary.