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Varied and deep-seated cultural or religious beliefs in Palawan are making parents hesitate to have their kids immunized against measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases, a health official of the provincial government said Tuesday.

Provincial Health Office (PHO) chief Dr. Mary Ann Navarro said in a Department of Health (DOH) MIMAROPA media forum that one of the most usual reasons parents use as an excuse to avoid the vaccination of their children is “religious beliefs”, especially among the indigenous peoples (IP).

“Ang hirap sa mga tribal families kasi hindi sila naniniwala sa vaccination dahil sa cultural or religious beliefs nila. Ayaw nila ma-vaccinate ang mga anak nila,” Navarro said.

She said the PHO has already recorded 24 measles cases with one death in Coron as of February 11, and the increase is “already alarming.”

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Last week, data from the DOH in MIMAROPA only recorded 15 cases for Palawan.

Navarro said Coron town has the most number of measles cases with 17 and the death of a three-year-old Muslim girl, followed by Culion with one case, El Nido with three, and Puerto Princesa City also with three.

To date, Palawan ranks second in the MIMAROPA provinces with the highest number of measles cases. On top of the list is Oriental Mindoro with 157 from last week’s 103 cases.

She said there are some religions that believe that the body is sacred and should not be made to receive chemicals but should be healed through natural means.

If this will be the case, she said, it will really be hard to convince many parents to have their children be immunized against the highly contagious respiratory disease that can lead to brain damage and death.

“Kung mahal natin ang mga anak natin ay pabakunahan natin sila. Dapat silang mga parents mismo ang mag-decide na pabakunahan ang mga anak nila. Mahirap mahawa, isasakripisyo niyo ba ang kaligtasan ng mga anak ninyo? Sana ‘wag natin isara ang ating mga pinto sa mga health workers na tinutulungan tayo,” Navarro said.

DOH Regional Epidemiology Surveillance Unit (RESU) coordinator Noel Orosco pointed out it is not the Dengvaxia controversy that is frightening parents to have their children immunized, it is also “low compliance” since cases decreased for a long time.

Orosco said the cause of measles outbreak involved a number of factors or elements.

“Partly siguro [nakaapekto] but sa atin [sa MIMAROPA] hindi. Unang-una, nakita natin na bumaba ang immunization for measles bago pa man ang Dengvaxia. Dumating ang issue sa Dengvaxia is late 2017. In year 2014 onwards mababa ang vaccination [na sa measles kasi walang nagkakasakit],” he said.

He said compliance really decreases when people think that diseases that need to be managed by vaccination are no longer affecting a large number of community people.

“Bumaba ang compliance ng mga tao kasi kapag matagal ng walang nagkakaroon ng ganoong sakit sa isang lugar, iniisip ng mga tao na safe na sila. ‘Yon ang isa sa mga tinignan natin na dahilan kung bakit bumaba ang nagpapa-vaccine. Hindi Dengvaxia ang reason at isa pa, walang binigyan ng Dengvaxia sa MIMAROPA,” Orosco said.

Orosco’s explanation is to debunk reports that “loss of confidence and trust in the government’s immunization program because of the Dengvaxia scare” is the reason why parents do not want to submit their kids to vaccination against measles.

Meanwhile, City Health Office (CHO) chief Dr. Ricardo Panganiban, said Puerto Princesa’s three measles cases are from  Barangays Sta. Monica, San Jose, and Irawan.

He added they already have conducted mass vaccination in all barangays to prevent the possibility of more cases.

“Yan ang tatlong kaso na binabantayan natin, they are being monitored. Araw-araw nasa labas ang ating mga workers to ensure all children will be vaccinated,” Panganiban said.

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is the chief of correspondents of Palawan News. She covers defense, politics, tourism, health, and sports stories. She loves to travel and explore different foods.