By Beting Laygo Dolor
Contributing Editor

Another dread disease re-surfaced in the Philippines following the heels of polio and the dengue epidemic that claimed more than 1,000 lives.

After a Manila student was found to have died last week due to diphtheria, the Department of Health (DoH) said there was no outbreak but that deaths due to the disease were still “unacceptable.”

“We do not have a diphtheria outbreak,” Dr. Anthony Calibo, chief of the DoH Children’s Health Development Division — Disease Prevention and Control Bureau, said following the passing of a Grade 4 student in the capital city.

The 10-year-old girl was a student at the Jacinto Zamora Elementary School, according to Health Undersec. Eric Domingo. Her fever began on September 13. She was found to have rashes and mouth sores by the school nurse. The girl passed away on September20.

The disease also emerged in various parts of the country in recent weeks.

Dr. Calibo said the death of one student was still unacceptable because it could have been “readily preventable through vaccination.”

So far, there have been 40 confirmed fatalities due to diphtheria from January 1 to September 7, according to DoH records. A total of 167 cases were monitored by the Health department for the same period.

The situation, however, has worsened noticeably, year-on-year.

By comparison, there were 127 cases of the disease for the same period last year, leading to 30 deaths.

The infectious disease diphtheria is caused by a bacteria that affects the throat and upper airways. The first symptoms include sore throat, low fever, and swollen neck glands.

Infected persons experience difficulty in breathing. Diphtheria can affect both children and adults but the former are more susceptible because they generally have weaker immune systems.

In extreme cases and if left untreated, the disease can be fatal, especially for infants due to what Calibo said was due to “respiratory compromise.”

The physician added: “If children are not vaccinated and they are exposed to the bacteria, there is a bigger risk that they will acquire the disease. This may lead to death if not treated immediately.”

Two weeks ago, polio was discovered in the Philippines after an absence of 19 years. Two cases were confirmed by the DoH. Both could have been avoided had the parents of the victims availed of free vaccination offered in the DoH’s health centers nationwide.

Once infected, there is no known cure for polio victims.

The World Health Organization (WHO) warned the Philippines that if it does not step up its vaccinations of children under the age of five, more cases of polio could be expected.

The WHO said it was “gravely concerned” about the situation in the Philippines. For now, there are only three countries in the world where polio remains endemic, namely Pakistan, Nigeria, and Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, the Philippines is still facing a dengue epidemic that began earlier this year.

As of earlier this month, the DoH confirmed that more than 1,000 dead because of dengue, from 271,480 cases recorded from January to August.

While tens of thousands of dengue cases have been recorded throughout Southeast Asia this year, the Philippines has been the worst hit, according to the WHO.

One reason for the high number is that parents have become frightened of having their children vaccinated following unconfirmed reports that the only vaccine that can prevent dengue — Dengvaxia — could also cause fatalities. The reports were never confirmed but the government disallowed the use of the vaccine anyway.

The country’s general health situation is reported to worsen next year after the DoH’s budget was slashed considerably under the General Appropriations Act for 2020.

The DoH’s budget for next year will be cut by PHP16.6 billion (around US$300 million) compared to this year, according to former Health secretary and now Rep. Janette Garin.