An outbreak of dengue fever in the Philippines has been declared a national epidemic after causing hundreds of deaths this year.
The country has recorded 146,062 cases of dengue from January through to 20 July this year, 98% more than the same period in 2018, the department of health said. The outbreak has claimed the lives of 622 people.
The declaration of an epidemic means local governments will be able to draw on emergency central funds to improve their response to the outbreak.
Dengue is a mosquito-borne viral infection found in tropical countries worldwide. It can cause joint pain, nausea, vomiting and a rash, and can cause breathing problems, haemorrhaging and organ failure in severe cases. While there is no specific treatment for the illness, medical care to maintain a person’s fluid levels is seen as critical.
The department of health said that it was conducting a campaign to focus on finding and destroying mosquito breeding sites, which is a primary means of containing dengue. Other government agencies, local government units, schools, offices and communities will join in the effort, it said.
The government in Manila on Tuesday stood by its decision to ban the sale, import and distribution of the Dengvaxia vaccine. It introduced the ban in February following the deaths of several dozen children who were among more than 700,000 people given shots in 2016 and 2017 in a government immunisation campaign.
Health minister Francisco Duque said the government was studying an appeal to allow French pharmaceutical firm Sanofi to put the vaccine back in the Philippine market, but ruled out using the drug to combat the ongoing epidemic which has hit small children hard.
“This vaccine does not squarely address the most vulnerable group which is the 5-9 years of age,” Duque said.
The vaccine, now licensed in 20 countries according to the World Health Organization, is approved for use for those aged nine and older.
Duque said the United Nations agency also advised Manila that the vaccine was “not recommended” as a response to an outbreak, and it was anyway “not cost-effective” with one dose costing a thousand pesos (about $20).
Other south-east Asian countries have also reported an surge in dengue cases this year, according to the UN’s World Health Organisation.
The organisation said Malaysia had registered 62,421 cases through to 29 June, including 93 deaths, compared with 32,425 cases with 53 deaths for the same period last year. Vietnam over the same period had 81,132 cases with four deaths reported, compared with 26,201 cases including six deaths in 2018.
In south Asia, Bangladesh has been facing its worst-ever dengue fever outbreak, putting a severe strain on the country’s already overwhelmed medical system.