Health News

Philippines' Duterte says dengue campaign carried out in 'good faith'

MANILA (Reuters) - President Rodrigo Duterte believes the previous Philippine government acted in good faith in launching an immunization drive that used a new dengue vaccine on hundreds of thousands of children, he said on Wednesday.

Philippines' President Rodrigo Duterte Rodrigo Duterte gestures during a news conference on the sidelines of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Pasay, metro Manila, Philippines, November 14, 2017. REUTERS/Dondi Tawatao

The campaign was started by Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino, who approved the use of 3.5 billion pesos ($69 million) in savings in 2016 to buy millions of doses of Dengvaxia, the world’s first approved vaccine against the mosquito-borne virus.

The campaign was halted on Dec. 1, after the vaccine maker, French drug firm Sanofi, said Dengvaxia’s use was to be strictly limited due to evidence it could worsen the disease in people who had not previously been exposed to the virus.

A criminal investigation has been launched to determine how the danger to public health came about and two Congressional inquiries have begun in the Philippines.

“It is good faith. If you really think in good faith that you are doing the right thing, nobody, but nobody, can question you, except your conscience,” Duterte told reporters, adding that he too would have opted for immunization since clinical studies at the time showed the vaccine would save lives.

“I am not prepared to pass judgment. I can only inquire and hope that everything will give us the truth,” he added, saying he did not think Sanofi would do something to tarnish its reputation.

Dengue is not as serious as malaria, but it kills about 20,000 people and infects hundreds of millions worldwide, with 200,000 cases reported on average in the Philippines each year.

Dengvaxia won its first market approval in Mexico in Dec. 2015.

Senator Richard Gordon, chairman of the senate investigation panel, believes approval and procurement for the program went through with “undue haste”, given how quickly the department of health (DOH) received funding for the campaign.

Gordon has asked Aquino to attend the senate inquiry, which will resume on Thursday.

Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Clarence Fernandez