The University of the Philippines Center for Integrative and Development Studies (UP CIDS) Program on Alternative Development (AltDev) along with the Alternative Budget Initiative – Health Cluster, DIGINIDAD, Focus on the Global South, Trade Justice Philippines, WomanHealth Philippines, Inc., and the UP Third World Studies Center organized the public forum “Dengvaxia Nightmare – People Clamor: Did Anyone Really Care About People’s Health?” last March 9, 2018.
Ms. Ana Maria R. Nemenzo from WomanHealth Philippines explained that the forum was not intended to find out who is right or wrong or to point who is guilty and culpable. The forum approached the issue of Dengvaxia as a public health issue and looked at ways on how to avoid a similar public health problem from happening again in the future.
The forum began with University of the Philippines – Manila Health Policy graduate student Maria Fatima Villena discussing Sanofi’s decision to change the Dengvaxia label. Aside from premature claims of absolute safety (in children aged 9 or more), the baseline risk was low. The sample population in the clinical trial was at 31,000 but 800,000 school-age children were vaccinated by the government. Villena also asserted that Dengvaxia is not an issue of age but one of serotype. What is worrying in the light of the “Dengvaxia Nightmare” is the public’s increasing distrust and lack of confidence in vaccination programs, healthcare services, and the Department of Health as an institution.
Mercedes Fabros from WomanHealth Philippines chronicled the timeline of civil society’s engagement with the bureaucracy. The Dengvaxia issue is a clear manifestation of how the health sector policy making, planning, budgeting, and monitoring principles and processes are closely interlinked. Fabros presented their group’s engagement with the government, citing organization and personal notes, news articles, and the House of Representatives–Department of Health budget hearing minutes. She stressed that the ₱3.5 Billion-worth Dengvaxia program was never discussed in any of these hearings in 2015 and during the budget preparation and legislation phases for the FY 2016 budget.
Amihan Abueva, the Regional Executive Director of Child Rights Coalition – Asia, focused on “Human Rights and Informed Consent: Safeguarding the Best Interest of the Child”. She presented action points for moving forward: a) transparency from the programming to the monitoring of services for children and for every citizen to be mindful of the child’s “best interest” when engaging with public programs and services; b) surfacing mechanisms allowing “child participation” in similar programs and ensuring informed consent; c) assertion of public servants in their right to capacity-building relevant to the performance of their functions; d) provision of remedial measures from the State that allows children and their families to seek effective remedies for abuse or violations when business enterprises are involved; e) prevention of the persistence of negative perceptions of the country’s Vaccination Program; and f) paramount consideration of the best interests of children in public programs and services.
Rachel Abian from the Concerned Parents of Vaccinated Children shared how she found out her child was vaccinated with Dengvaxia in 2016 and her experience engaging with uncooperative health centers and how they handled her child’s case. She also raised concerns not only for the mental health of the children vaccinated with Dengvaxia but also for the parents and family members.
The last panelist, Dr. Walden Bello, talked about the conflicts of interest in the public health sector. He touched on three things: Sanofi’s role, the Former Secretary Janette Garin and the Department of Health’s role, and his critique of the “Doctors for Truth” Statement.
Dr. Ramon P. Paterno, as panel reactor, presented the people’s oversight on health. He called for broadening people’s coalition from the Dengvaxia issue to oversight on health and health care; demanding Free Health Care for Dengvaxia immunized children to Free health care for “Dengvaxia” families to Free Health Care for all Filipinos based on citizenship and not enrollment in PhilHealth; and for organized and empowered communities to serve as a foundation to safeguarding our health.
The public forum was attended by 67 participants from various Civil Society Organizations, the academe, and the media.
* Photo credit to Fe Manapat of WomanHealth