The Department of Health is targeting a 95 percent vaccination coverage for its fully immunized child (FIC) project. The numbers, especially in the last year, have been dismal, according to Secretary of Health Francisco Duque III.

"It has fallen to nearly 70 percent in 2016, according to the FHSIS (Field Health Information System), and this is challenging, [even] lamentable," the Health chief told newsmen during the 2017 Philippine National Immunization Conference held on November 9 and 10. 

In the 2016 annual report of the DOH, 74.5 percent of children received immunization in 2013, but this went down further to 69 percent in 2016.

"Vaccines are a powerful tool, a part of the grand initiative of the national government to reach universal health care by recognizing the weapons that have significant impacts in communities," he declared.

Immunization has saved millions of children's lives globally. 

Unfortunately, the gap in vaccination rates in the country has persisted even when the Health department has command over vast resources, Secretary Duque rued.

Higher budget

He acknowledged the bigger budget allocation for the department should help improve implementation of its programmes and achieve better outcomes. During his first term as Health chief in 2005, the DOH only had a budget of Php 360 million to work with for its immunization programme.

“[It was] extremely difficult bringing down child mortality because of fiscal constraint,” he said. But the department still managed to achieve immunization gains such as free-status against polio, controlled-status against measles and high FIC coverage rate by 2010.

The situation is far different today. For 2018, the DOH has allocated Php 7.4 billion for immunization of children, adolescents, and the elderly.

There are 13 antigens in the National Immunization Program (NIP), which include pneumococcal vaccine, human papillomavirus vaccine for adolescents, flu vaccine for the elderly, inactivated polio vaccine, and the introduction of the Japanese Encephalitis vaccine in 2018.

“We should be able to step up and push our vaccinations to the hilt and maximize this opportunity…[we have] a lot of work to do, and we must do it. So long as these children are far from our reach then they remain vulnerable to highly preventable deaths,” he told attendees.

Getting back on track

He calls routine immunization "one of the best buys in public health," thus it is a "great tragedy" that even with relatively inexpensive vaccines, the country has not been able to reach and save vulnerable children.

"We need to reverse this trend immediately," Secretary Duque remarked.

To do so, the department must reach the poorest communities and those with the lowest immunization coverage and this they hope to accomplish with the "reaching every purok (zone)" strategy.

Further, improving the logistics system is paramount given the DOH transports massive numbers of vaccines on an equally massive scale, and this must be timely and assured of quality and integrity.

Equally important is for the agency to implement better planning and forecasting to ensure there will be no stock-outs, the secretary explained.

Speed and precision

More than strategies, however, what must be given attention is speed and precision in the delivery of service.

“We don’t have the luxury of time,” he said, emphasizing that in health, serious consequences are at times fatal.

Thus, delivering vaccines and administering them on the right individuals - where they are needed - and on time is paramount.

He took the opportunity to ask professionasl and other stakeholders to maintain and sustain the gains of the past.

Secretary Duque concluded, “Let us not let our hard worn victory to get lost but must be emboldened to continue the risk knowing that successful NIH is a major building block in achieving better health outcomes for our people and therefore, a higher quality of life.”

The 18th PNIC is organized by the Philippine Foundation for Vaccination and the Section of Infectious and Tropical DIseases (INTROP) of the Department of Pediatrics of the University of the Philippines - Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH). MIMS

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