Cults refuse polio vaccination

DAVAO CITY-Religious cults have stopped medical personnel of the Department of Health (DOH) from giving anti-polio vaccination to children below five years old in their communities.

The vaccination drive is part of government’s ongoing nationwide “war” against poliomyelitis, an infectious viral disease that affects the central nervous system and can cause temporary or permanent paralysis.

Health officials here said they are alarmed by the refusal of the members of the “Dose ka Panon” (12 Disciples) and “Dios nga Amahan” (God the Father) because they are among the sectors who are highly susceptible to polio.

Dr. Dolores Castillo, DOH regional chief here, said the cults, residing in the Kaputian area in the Island Garden City of Samal; Bataan town in Davao del Norte and in the hinterlands of Marilog in Davao City are very reclusive and have repeatedly rejected all medical missions and vaccination activities.

Castillo said both groups believe that manufactured medicines cannot heal them because only a Supreme Being can.

Castillo said the health department has monitored three cases of measles epidemic in the villages occupied by the cults in Samal du­ring the past three years and that many children did not survive.

Castillo said a polio epidemic in the cults’ villages would be very devastating not only to its members but also to other residents in Samal and even in Davao City, because of the danger that the disease would spread.

Polio was thought to have been eradicated in the country but made a comeback last year.

In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) certified the Phi­lippines and other countries in the Western Pacific region as “polio-free” in 2000 but health authorities recently monitored a mutant strain of the virus in three separate cases of polio in Cagayan de Oro City; Laguna and Cavite.

Castillo said following the discovery of the new strain, the DOH declared a national emergency on polio.

DOH recently initiated an aggressive nationwide “door-to-door” polio immunization campaign, which it described as its own version of the “Balikatan,” referring the joint Philippine-United States military exercise in the country.

DOH workers refer to Health Secretary Manuel Dayrit as “General Dayrit” for marshalling resources and personnel of the DOH and other donor agencies for the campaign. Dayrit has been leading some 68,000 health personnel and volunteers in giving oral polio vaccine to children nationwide.

Castillo said health officials refer to barangay health workers, volunteers and field doctors as their “foot soldiers” in the polio vaccination campaign. DOH started the first round of the campaign on Feb. 2 to 8 and set a second round on March 2 to 8.

Castillo said the recent return of polio makes it even more important for the DOH to touch base with members of the cult in Samal.

But Samal Mayor Rogelio Antalan cautioned DOH officials here against forcing members of the cult to submit to polio vaccination because they also have the right to refuse medical services.

Antalan, however, advised the DOH to negotiate and convince cult leaders to agree to the vaccination drive.

Castillo said they agree with Antalan’s observation and are setting appointments with the cult leaders to discuss the polio problem and its dangers.

“We will have to do a lot of convincing in this case,” she said.