In February 2019, a measles outbreak was declared by the Philippine Department of Health (DOH) for the National Capital Region (NCR), Region III, Region IVA, Region VI, and Region VII. As an auxiliary organization to the DOH, the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) was requested to support the DOH’s outbreak response. True to its mantra of “Always first, always ready, and always there,” the PRC quickly came up with two interventions to complement the work of the government. With International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent funds, the PRC: (i) established Measles Care Units in government hospitals and (ii) supported the DOH’s measles outbreak response through vaccination and community education.
Decongested Overburdened Government hospitals with Measles Care Units
With more than 12,000 measles cases by the end of February 2019, the government hospitals in the affected regions were overwhelmed with patients. It was a dire situation with as many as two to three patients occupying a single bed. Within the first week of the measles outbreak, the PRC set up Measles Care Units adjacent to the hospitals where local governments requested assistance. The Measles Care Units acted as hospital extension wards, providing additional beds for patients and also serving as “fast lanes” or emergency rooms to triage suspected measles cases. The PRC ensured that these units were adequately supplied and equipped to be effective support units at the hospitals. Each unit was manned by PRC volunteers and had air conditioning units and portable toilets.
Measle Care Units in government hospitals in the National Capital Region. Source: “Philippine Red Cross Responding to the 2019 Measles Outbreak in the Philippines” Presentation from the September 2019 Measles & Rubella Initiative Partners’ Meeting
Responded to the Measles Outbreak through Vaccination and Community Education
Ten days after the declaration of the measles outbreak, the PRC began vaccinating children in the slums of Metro Manila. The PRC mobilized 2,000 volunteers from its community health volunteers and students from nursing and medical schools. With these efforts, 17,000 children were vaccinated.
Beyond vaccinations, it was critical that the parents, the caregivers and communities understood the measles outbreak and the importance of vaccination. The PRC’s community health volunteers delivered key messages on measles prevention, measles warning signs, importance of measles vaccinations and caring practices. Information materials were also left with mothers as reminders. For their prompt response and efforts, the Department of Health recognized the impactful work of the PRC, its staff, and volunteers with a Certificate of Appreciation.
Philippine Red Cross teams vaccinating children and educating communities on measles prevention, measles warning signs, and measles vaccinations. Source: “Philippine Red Cross Responding to the 2019 Measles Outbreak in the Philippines” Presentation from the September 2019 Measles & Rubella Initiative Partners’ Meeting
The Measles & Rubella Initiative applauds the PRC’s efforts
On September 11, 2019, the Measles & Rubella Initiative presented the M&RI Champion Award to the Philippine Red Cross for their noteworthy efforts in the February measles outbreak, primarily concentrated in the Philippines’ National Capital Region. Despite the outbreak response, the Philippine Department of Health, the PRC and M&RI Partners are cognizant of the reality that the fight continues on. As of the last week of August, there have been 40,000 measles cases and 551 deaths. The statistics are sobering and are a result of the decline in the first dose of measles vaccine in the past decade in the Philippines– from above 80% in 2008 to below 70% in 2018 and below 70% coverage throughout the years for the second measles dose. As long as measles immunization remains low and way below the target 95% coverage, the Philippines will continue to experience periodic measles outbreaks. Measles moves fast, we must move faster to ensure the future of children in the Philippines and worldwide.