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1.3 million children in Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in need of protection

From highly infectious measles spread

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From the 1st until 12th April, health workers will provide lifesaving vaccines to protect against this deadly and highly contagious disease in the densely populated areas of Maguindanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, and Marawi City and subsequently, cover all other areas.

A major immunization drive in early April will reach over 1.3 million children in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) following the alarming surge in measles cases with 77 per cent of the confirmed cases in the Philippines being reported from this region.

From the 1st until 12th April, health workers will provide lifesaving vaccines to protect against this deadly and highly contagious disease in the densely populated areas of Maguindanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, and Marawi City. The BARMM Ministry of Health will vaccinate children in all three priority areas and subsequently, cover all other areas, with support from the Department of Health (DOH), as well as WHO and UNICEF.

With one million doses of measles vaccines for this region that UNICEF will help to buy, in response to DOH Secretary Dr Teodoro J. Herbosa's fast track request, health workers will fan out across the region in one major round. They will give measles shots to children aged 6 months to 10 years. UNICEF will also help procure another one million doses of measles vaccines for the rest of the country. Children aged 6 to 59 months will receive one dose of vitamin A, while those with confirmed cases of measles will receive two doses. Vitamin A is a low-cost way to prevent complications from happening and boost immunity against other illnesses. 

Apart from its direct effect on the body, which can be lethal, the measles virus also weakens the immune system and makes a child more vulnerable to other infectious diseases like lung, brain and ear infections, diarrhea, and blindness. The cost to the healthcare system as well as lost family income when caring for sick children is staggering. According to PhilHealth, it may cost up to P40,000 per pneumonia case - the commonest measles complication. On the other hand, it costs the government P200-300 to vaccinate a child with measles vaccine. The vaccines are provided free to the population.

“There is a critical need to reach and vaccinate the children missed during routine vaccinations. We have to make sure that no child is left behind in the BARMM. We have the support of many stakeholders, now it is up to us to lead in this fight against this deadly disease,” said BARMM Deputy Minister for Health, Dr Zul Qarneyn Abas.

“President Marcos is keen on ending this measles outbreak. Kung sa Bagong Pilipinas, bawat buhay mahalaga, sa Bangsamoro rin - bawat bata mahalaga, (If in the new Philippines, each life is important, so it is in the Bangsamoro where every child is important),” said DOH Secretary Dr. Teodoro J. Herbosa.

Between 1st January and 20th March this year, the region has officially reported 592 cases of measles. It is generally believed that the total number of cases in the community is much more. Last October, Lanao del Sur activated their emergency operations centers for a measles outbreak in all health units. In the same month, Marawi City declared a measles outbreak.

“Measles is probably the most contagious disease known to affect humans. It can affect anyone, though it is most common in children. Data from the current outbreak has as many as 30 per cent of the cases above 5 years of age. Community-wide vaccination remains the most effective way to prevent measles. Urgent, targeted and accelerated efforts are critical to reach all children with the necessary measles vaccine. WHO will coordinate and collaborate with partners at global, regional, and national levels to support DOH to vaccinate all the vulnerable populations,” said WHO Representative to the Philippines Dr Rui Paulo de Jesus.

WHO has provided DOH with technical assistance based on global best practices for measles vaccination. This includes recommendations on vaccination strategies, guidance on the target populations, disease surveillance and health worker training. UNICEF has supported the region with vaccine procurement, deployed additional health staff, built cold chain capacity, engaged with religious and community leaders to address hesitancy and misinformation, among other forms of support.

“No child should ever die from vaccine-preventable diseases. Since last year, UNICEF has been actively supporting the accelerated prevention and outbreak response activities. We provided much-needed cold-chain equipment, training the health force, mobilizing religious, community and youth leaders so they can educate families on how best to protect children. We are ready to step up and do whatever it takes to ensure every child is vaccinated and protected,” said UNICEF Representative to the Philippines Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov.

In 2023, only 60 per cent of the eligible children received their first dose of the measles vaccine in BARMM. Only 51 per cent of children got a second dose.

For the Philippines to be safe from the threat of measles, 95 per cent of the infants must be vaccinated with two doses of measles vaccine at 9 and 12 months of age during routine childhood immunization. Failing this, many children grow up unprotected - only to catch measles later with protracted community transmission and periodic outbreaks.

The agencies are calling for more investments where needed and to maximize existing resources in vaccine supply, human resources, and social behavioral change to address this and any possible outbreaks in the future.


Lely Djuhari
Chief of Advocacy and Communication
UNICEF Philippines
Tel: +639175675622

Saida D. Ali
Health Education and Promotions Officer III
Ministry of Health-BARMM
Tel: +639154409142

Jem Valeriano
Communication Officer
Department of Health
Tel: +639326100561

Leovy Ramirez
Communications Associate
WHO Philippines
Tel: +639156618382

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