Philippines: Deadly measles outbreak claiming lives of children under five

Manila/Kuala Lumpur/Geneva, 7 March 2019 – Children in the Philippines are at serious risk of a deadly measles outbreak that has already claimed the lives of 261 people, most of whom are youngsters under age five, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) warned today.

The spread of measles has been on the rise in the Philippines in recent years due to a range of reasons including low vaccination rates across the country. In 2018, cases were up 547 per cent compared to 2017. Already this year there have been more deaths from measles than was recorded in 2018 when 202 people died from the disease. Worryingly, the death rate from this year's outbreak is higher than in 2018 and the number of cases continues to rise.

Philippines Red Cross Chairman and CEO, Richard Gordon said: "Some 2.6 million children could be at risk, so we are drawing on the skills and dedication of our two million Red Cross volunteers to go door-to-door and neighbourhood-to-neighbourhood to reach 100 per cent of our unvaccinated children in the country within 12 months.

"It is completely unacceptable that children are still dying from measles in 2019. More than 260 children have died in two months. Red Cross is working to restore confidence in vaccines so defenceless and voiceless infants can stop dying when there is an entirely preventable solution. The vaccine has been available for decades and provides almost 100 per cent protection from measles. We urge every parent to vaccinate their children to protect them and other people with whom they come into contact," he added.

The Philippines Red Cross, in close cooperation with the Department of Health, is rolling out a massive social mobilization campaign across seven of the hardest hit regions to provide vaccination and raise awareness in an effort to contain the outbreak. With many local hospitals overwhelmed, the Red Cross is also operating seven measles tents (Measles Care Units) to help with the clinical management and medical care of highly contagious patients, and to prevent the infection of other patients and visitors coming to the hospitals.

IFRC has launched an emergency appeal of 2 million Swiss francs ($1.99 million US dollars) to enable Philippines Red Cross to vaccinate 260,000 people, raise awareness about immunization and provide clinical support for 12 over-crowded hospitals.

Recent global declines in vaccination rates resulted in more than 110,000 measles deaths worldwide in 2017. The Philippines outbreak coincides with other measles outbreaks across Europe, the United States, New Zealand and Madagascar where declines in vaccination rates have also been observed.

For more information, contact:

In Manila: Susan Cullinan, +63 0928 699 8615, surge.aprocomms@ifrc.org

In Kuala Lumpur: Zulaikha Mudzar, +60 17303 2296, zulaikha.mudzar@ifrc.org

In Geneva: Laura Ngo-Fontaine, +41 79 570 4418, laura.ngofontaine@ifrc.org