Editorial: Public health over politics

THE Cebu Provincial Board tucked the concern on fake news into its proposed ordinance addressing public health in relation to the Wuhan virus. It was part of the provisions under Executive Order 5, which created a task force that will manage the entry and spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV)

To have specifically included misinformation into the ordinance augurs well a subtext that public health shouldn’t be muddled by false information—a social media phenomena that is never innocent of political motives. The internet is apparently the new town hall as far as the preferred space for political mudslinging is concerned. The ordinance, other than saying that fake news has no place in the face of a public health emergency, it’s also saying that politics should stay out of that universe.

It must be said that the return of polio cases and the sharp drop in the number of children submitted to government’s immunization program can all be traced to politics’ scare-mongering during the Dengvaxia vaccine controversy in 2017.

When the Dengvaxia developer revealed that the vaccine endangered the lives of those who were inoculated but had never had dengue, the findings became fertile ground for sowing intrigue. What was then a promising solution to the dengue scourge was severely muddled when politicians jumped into the fray. The scare was blown out of proportion with the onslaught of fake news and misinformation, burying the fact that the vaccine actually works if administered in its proper way. All the finger-pointing to this day amounted to nothing when prosecutors couldn’t even pin a single case that would link the deaths to the administration of the vaccine.

The Dengvaxia stir caused a general scare on government’s immunization program. The Department of Health attributed the measles outbreak in some regions of the country to vaccine hesitancy. Communities delay their acceptance or refused the vaccines despite the health workers’ efforts to introduce the services to them. For the first time in 19 years, the Philippines had a surge of polio cases. The World Health Organization declared the Philippines polio-free, and no small thanks to the government’s expanded immunization program, but 2019 saw a polio outbreak.

Information has always been the key to successful public health programs. Nothing else could muddle it than dragging the people’s well-being into the filthy world of politics.