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HRL reference 5

Dengvaxia and HIV (see other references)

AMONG the interesting social media threads I read about the controversial P3.5-billion
Department of Health (DOH) anti-dengue vaccination program was whether it is a human
rights issue. All those who commented on the thread seemed to concur. Indeed, why it is a
human rights issue and what a rights-based response to it would be merits discussion.
Section 15 of Article 2of the 1987 Philippine Constitution affirms that the State’s
responsibility for protecting and promoting the right to health of the people and instill health
consciousness among them is among our country’s foundational policies. Red Constantino,
who started the thread and himself a father who understands the distress of the parents of
the more than 700,000children from public schools in Metro Manila, Central Luzon and
Calabarzon who had been injected with Dengvaxia, also referred to an assertion by the
World Health Organization (WHO)that the right to health includes “the right... to be free from
interference (e.g. free from torture and from non-consensual medical treatment and
experimentation).” A 2006 publication by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and the
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the “Orientation Training Manual
Towards Mainstreaming Human Rights in the Development and Governance Processes,”
identified the right to health as among the economic, social and cultural rights concerned
with the resources to ensure quality of life and their production, development and
management. The manual also included health in the examples on how rights, other than
civil and political ones, can be violated. The examples on rights violation through acts of
commission (“through direct action of the States or other entities insufficiently regulated by
States”), as well as violations of the obligations to respect (by “deliberate withholding or
misrepresentation of information vital to health protection or treatment”), and protect (“failure
to regulate activities of… corporations so as to prevent them from violating the right to
health of others”) seemed most relevant to the Dengvaxia controversy.

Rapidly politicized, the issue has been labeled as "attempted genocide against Filipino
children," ‘Dengvaxiagate’ thus alluding to a scandal involving government officials and big
pharmaceutical business interests represented here by Dengvaxia manufacturer Sanofi,
and a public health crisis owing to the rushed deployment of a program still being
questioned for its limited effectiveness and long-term risks concerns.

The realization that the use of Dengvaxia was initiated by the Aquino administration, initially
considered unsafe but later given a certificate of exemption and continued by the DOH
under Duterte, and that more children were actually vaccinated during the time of the
current leadership seems to have doused the hype that was tending towards Dutertarian-
versus-Dilawan. There is a very real possibility that public concern about the program would
simmer down and eventually die out as attention shifts to other controversies. But a rights-
based approach or RBA, understood asa mainstreaming process to link human rights to
health and other aspects of development, would not allow that to happen. A human rights-
oriented approach to the Dengvaxia issue would remind everyone that all government
initiatives have to be founded on and affirming of rights, and therefore should triumph above
political taint. The Dengvaxia-vaccinated children and their parents and families would
neither be reduced to victims for purposes of propaganda, nor disempowered further by
disinformation or token actions. They would be properly identified and assisted. Fully
informed, they would be in a stronger position to discuss concerns and explore options.
There would also be due attention to vulnerable groups among those affected.
Accountability and transparency would be practiced through independent and expert-
assisted investigations, beyond the usual political and media shelf life of issues. Because
the State, and not just government, is responsible for human rights, all those public officials
involved will have to be held accountable, regardless of the term under which they served or
the positions they held. RBA does not limit to government the role of duty-bearers who have
moral duty or social responsibility for human rights. Other parties that have involvement, be
it international bodies like the WHO or big business like Sanofi, would be called to task.
Taking a rights-based approach to the Dengvaxia debacle is an opportunity to renew and
strengthen public understanding of human rights that, for some time now, has been
simplistically reduced to political and civil rights and the work of the CHR. Ought CHR and
other human rights advocates have issued a public statement about the Dengvaxia
problem? Perhaps, if only to affirm that it is indeed a human rights issue, that the right to
health is at stake, which government in particular must respect, protect and fulfill—and in
the process, maximize a teaching moment in furtherance of human rights education. It
would also be a fitting way of marking the 67thyear of December 10 as International Human
Rights Day since its commencement in 1950 to mark the 1948 adoption of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights; and to launch the campaign for the 50thanniversary of the
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.