MANILA - The Philippine Red Cross needs volunteers to help save children who are most vulnerable in an outbreak of measles that hit large swaths of the country, an official said Sunday.
The health department has recorded at least 14 deaths due to the measles outbreak in Metro Manila, Central Luzon, Calabarzon, Western Visayas, and Central Visayas. The San Lazaro Hospital in Manila has reported 55 measles-related deaths since January.
Volunteers can help distribute anti-measles vaccine and set up hospital tents, said Dr. Susan Mercado, Deputy Secretary General of Red Cross' Centers for Health and Humanitarian Action.
"Retired and non-retired doctors, nurses, midwives - if you have a group it’s better. We also need other volunteers for logistics," she said in a Facebook post.
"Everyone can contribute their time and resources that can be put to use to save as many children as we can from the measles epidemic," added Mercado, who is a former health department undersecretary and official of the World Health Organization-Western Pacific office.
Volunteers may reach Red Cross through social media with the hashtag #BantayTigdas or through trunkline 790-2300, she said.
Red Cross is coordinating with the health department to set up a 100-bed emergency medical unit and welfare desks at San Lazaro Hospital, its chairman, Senator Richard Gordon said last week.
The influx of patients at the hospital has forced 2 or 3 children to share one bed, said Gordon. Rooms with a 3-person capacity, he added, were accommodating 10 patients.
The measles outbreak came after a dip in immunization coverage last year following the controversy on anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia, which French drug maker Sanofi admitted could trigger more severe symptoms in some cases.
The public should “not put vaccination into a bad light” as it is necessary to protect the children from contagious diseases, said Gordon.
“Let’s stop the scare and rather educate the parents, families, and communities on the importance of vaccination for our children’s sake,” he said.
An opinion poll by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine last year showed just 32 percent of 1,500 Filipinos surveyed trusted vaccines, down from 93 percent in 2015.
Vaccines against measles and other diseases are available for free in government hospitals and health centers.
Measles, caused by a virus that infects the respiratory tract, can be passed through direct contact and through the air. Its complications include severe diarrhea, pneumonia, blindness, and even death, according to the Department of Health.