The Department of Health launches an intervention program that seeks to alleviate the burden of pneumonia on Filipino elderly, as part of its mandate enforced through the “Health and Wellness Program for Senior Citizens.”
The respiratory illness ranks third in the leading cause of death due to diseases in the Philippines, next to ischemic heart disease and cancer.
Based on 2016 data from the Philippine Statistics Authority, 57,809 pneumonia deaths were reported in that year alone, accounting for nearly 10 percent of 582,183 registered deaths.
Senior citizens are one of the most susceptible to acquiring pneumonia infection and have a hard time fighting off the disease because of their weakened immune systems. The elderly particularly need protection, one of which is through immunization, to help ensure their health.
In 2016, the DOH launched the Expanded Pneumococcal Immunization Program for Senior Citizens to protect Filipinos aged 60 to 65 years old and make free pneumococcal vaccination more accessible for them through local health centers. It also aims to emphasize the importance of community-led vaccination in reducing the prevalence and impact of pneumonia among the elderly, as well as to build public trust in vaccines.
According to World Health Organization, pneumonia is caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae, a bacterium that also causes several other diseases such as meningitis, septicaemia, sinusitis, and otitis media.
The WHO emphasized that pneumonia vaccines are safe and have significantly reduced the incidence of the disease in many countries.
Until now, pneumonia prevails as a health issue in the Philippines despite being vaccine-preventable. According to the WHO, vaccine hesitancy or the refusal to vaccinate is one of the top 10 global health threats in 2019 as it undermines the progress made in winning against vaccine-preventable diseases such as that seen in the return of polio incidences in the Philippines.
To increase immunization coverage for the elderly and to strengthen confidence in the safety and efficacy of vaccines, the Department of Social Welfare and Development - CALABARZON, together with the Province of Cavite led by Governor Juanito Victor “Jonvic” Remulla, the Provincial Health Office of Cavite, and DOH conducted the “Bakunado si Lolo at Lola, Iwas Pulmonya” lecture and free pneumonia immunization for almost 1,000 senior citizens from 16 municipalities and seven cities of the province.
Dr. Maria Victoria C. Torres, medical officer III and family health cluster head of the Cavite Provincial Health Office, explained during the program that maintaining a healthy lifestyle (exercising, maintaining a healthy diet, etc.), is still the most effective way of preventing the disease, combined with protection through vaccination.
“People who vaccinate prevent the likelihood of contracting the infection. It also reduces the transmission of the infection,” Dr. Torres said, adding that pneumococcal vaccine is “also effective against [antibiotic-] resistant strain [of pneumonia].”
Guided by the battle cry, “Bakuna Muna: Dahil ang Bakunado, Protektado,” senior citizens and their caregivers were educated about the disease and the several ways to prevent it.
The first to be vaccinated in the event’s ceremonial vaccination was Ciriaco B. Angeles, president of the Regional Federation of Senior Citizens Association of the Philippines. Angeles thanked the efforts of the local government and DOH in leading the health initiative.
“Sa pamamagitan ng programang ito, mas natutunan pa namin kung paano alagaan ang aming kalusugan. Sana ay maging malawig pa ito sa buong region ng CALABARZON para iparating sa ating mga nakatatanda ang kabutihan ng pagbabakuna. Sisikapin namin na suportahan sila sa kanilang mga mabuting layunin at ako ay willing na i-assist sila sa pagpapakilala sa kanilang mga adbokasiya. Dahil ang bakunado, protektado.”
(We learn how to protect ourselves with the help of this program. I hope this reaches more people in the CALABARZON region to help the elderly understand the importance of vaccination. Our group will do our part to support this initiative, as well as assist them in spreading this advocacy. Because a vaccinated person is protected),” said Angeles.
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