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WHO Pledges Help vs Endemic Cholera Problem in Catanduanes

LEGAZPI CITY, Feb. 15 (PNA) -– The World Health Organization (WHO) has vowed to help address the cholera problem in Catanduanes which the Department of Health (DOH) considers as already endemic in that island province of Bicol.

Endemic means there is usually a number of cases in any given month that are attributed to the absence of established source of safe water distribution system, the DOH explained.

Local residents, particularly those in rural villages, usually source their drinking water from deep wells that are prone to contamination from fecal material that, according to the DOH, develops Vibrio cholera, the bacteria that causes cholera.

The latest outbreak of the killer disease in the province was in the first half of last year which killed at least 14 people and hospitalized nearly 3,000 others.

The same occurrence also killed eight and hospitalized over 1,000 other people in 2011.

WHO will help the province in addressing the problem based on the specific needs of local government units (LGUs) but first, a refresher course for clinical physicians will be conducted for early diagnosis, recognition and treatment of diarrhea and cholera cases, particularly with provision of technical expertise from other countries where cholera is also endemic.

This was according to Dr. Nerisse Dominguez, the WHO representative who joined a DOH team headed by Health Undersecretary Enrique Tayag that conducted a four-day post-cholera assessment mission in Catanduanes last week.

During their presence, Tayag announced that “there is no more cholera outbreak in the province, but the possibility remains that it would occur again, especially in six of its 11 towns where sources of drinking water were found to be unsanitary and toilets are inadequate.”

In a statement reaching here over the week, Dominguez said WHO would consider implementing in Catanduanes its water safety plan (WSP), a concept introduced in the Philippines in 2006 and included in the 2007 Philippine National Standards for Drinking Water.

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A total of 190 water districts, out of total 831 in the country, have been trained on this approach and completed nine water safety plans, serving at least 15 million people, as well as drafted 15 WSPs.

And yet there is more than 6,000 water systems in the country, including those in Catanduanes, that need to know about this concept and make WSPs to ensure safe drinking water supply in their areas.

Selected areas in the country that experienced waterborne disease outbreaks form part of the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID)- assisted Phase 3 Project, from 2012 to 2016.

The project will develop WSP models for new types of water systems, according to Dominguez.

She said waterborne diseases still confront the country, despite high coverage of water supply at 92 percent as identified causes of outbreaks are open defecation; unprotected water sources; uncontrolled disposal of animal wastes; non-chlorination of community-based systems; and inadequate water monitoring.

The use of WSPs will contribute in reducing the environmental risks of waterborne diseases, in order to minimize these disease outbreaks.

The risks will be clearly identified and addressed in developing and implementing the plans, she explained.

The WSP, according to Dominguez, is the most effective means of maintaining a safe supply of drinking water for the citizenry.

The plan analyzes the risks of contamination, from the water source to the consumer.

At any given point of risk, appropriate control measures are then put in place.

WHO's work with the Government of the Philippines from 2011 to 2016 is defined by the Country Cooperation Strategy (CCS) jointly developed by WHO and the DOH.

It contains the vision and priorities for WHO to support the Philippine Government in achieving universal health care goals of better health outcomes, sustained health financing and a responsive health system, Dominguez added.

During last week’s DOH team visit, Tayag told Catanduanes local government and health officials that cholera is now endemic in the province and would take some time to totally eliminate it through proper implementation of water sanitation and hygiene programs and projects, according to a report of the Catanduanes Tribune, a local newspaper.

The disease can only be addressed through the implementation of water chlorination and provision of safe and adequate water supply, better personal hygiene, early provision of Oresol to combat dehydration in stricken patients and the immediate hospitalization of those affected--especially children, pregnant women and the elderly, Tayag said, according to the local newspaper.

“LGUs easily forget what they have started,” Tayag was quoted as saying in the Tribune report as he said DOH wants to see what has been done by local governments so that the health department can see where it will step in. “We believe that good coordination between the provincial government and the DOH would serve as a model of cooperation against cholera.”

During a dialogue with the DOH team, Catanduanes local officials led by Gov. Joseph Cua said the province does not have enough fund and suggested to the mayors that their LGUs allocate a portion of their 20 percent Economic Development Fund for water system projects in villages in their respective towns that were hit by the cholera outbreak.

Mayor Jose Alberto III of Virac, the capital town, said his LGU has already allotted P500,000 for the construction of condominial toilets in 2012, plus another P1.5 million for the same project as well as water systems for the current year. (PNA) LAP/FGS/DOC/CBD/UTB

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