The Philippines became a global frontrunner in the fight against dengue fever this week as it rolled out the world’s first vaccination programme for the viral disease, giving hope that one of the leading causes of serious illness and death among children in some Asian countries can be curbed.
On Monday, Philippine health authorities began the first vaccinations of 600 children at a state school in Marikina city, near Manila, in a programme that will involve one million students from 6,000 public schools this year in three dengue-endemic regions of the country. The producers of the vaccine believe it can reduce the number of dengue cases in the Philippines by 24% in the next five years.
The vaccine, Dengvaxia, was developed by major pharmaceutical company Sanofi at a cost of $1.8 billion and involved clinical studies in 15 countries over 20 years.
“This first dengue vaccine has been developed and proven effective in countries like the Philippines where dengue is a major public health priority,” said Cecilia Montalban, president of The Philippine Foundation for Vaccination. “As a physician and a mother, I am proud that my country plays a historic role in dengue prevention.”
However, according to the Straits Times, Philipppine health advocates urged a halt in the vaccination programme until the results of a World Health Organisation (WHO) study into possible adverse side effects were published.
Dengue is a mosquito-borne viral infection spread mostly by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. It causes flu-like symptoms that sometimes develop into potentially lethal complications. Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific regions are the most seriously affected, with more than three million cases recorded there by the WHO in 2013. The WHO says infection rates globally are vastly under-reported and that the disease may affect nearly 400 million people annually.
Last year, there was a surge in dengue cases recorded in Asean countries. In the first nine months of 2015, the number of cases in Myanmar nearly tripled compared to the same period the previous year, with a similar situation in Thailand. In Cambodia, the number of cases rose more than 350% and across the border in Vietnam, a jump of 85% was noted. Malaysia and Singapore also saw a spike in cases.