MANILA, Sept. 17 (Xinhua) -- The Philippines' Department of Health (DOH) said on Thursday that at least 36 children under 5 years old have died from measles in the Philippines this year.
"In 2020, pockets of measles outbreaks are being reported in the Philippines," the DOH said in a statement. "As of August, there are around 3,500 reported measles cases with 36 deaths. Most of the cases are among children under 5 years old."
In the Philippines, the DOH said an estimated 2.4 million children under the age of 5 are susceptible to measles.
The DOH said measles is one of the most contagious diseases in the world, and that up to nine out of 10 people exposed to the measles virus will contract the disease if not vaccinated.
The DOH will conduct the nationwide measles and polio supplemental immunization campaign starting Oct. 26 this year. The World Health Organization and the United Nations Children's Fund are supporting the campaign, the DOH added.
The DOH is targeting children under 5 years old, around 9.4 million children for the measles-rubella vaccine and 6.9 million children for the oral polio vaccine.
"Despite the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, a high-quality immunization campaign is urgently needed to stop measles transmission and possible outbreaks," Health Secretary Francisco Duque said.
Measles is a dangerous and fatal disease, with complications that can include severe diarrhea and dehydration, pneumonia, ear and eye complications, encephalitis or swelling of the brain, or permanent disability.
There is no specific treatment for measles. The only reliable protection from measles is vaccination, the DOH said in the statement.
"While measles is highly contagious, it is also a preventable disease. We must not lose the decades of progress we have achieved in immunizing and protecting Filipino children, even amid the COVID-19 pandemic," WHO Representative in the Philippines Rabindra Abeyasinghe said in the same statement.
He reiterated that the measles vaccine is safe and has been in use for 50 years.