diseases and ailments

Poverty, lack of grassroots sanitation behind Iloilo’s waterborne ailment crisis

Inday Espina-Varona
Poverty, lack of grassroots sanitation behind Iloilo’s waterborne ailment crisis

HEALTH DANGER. The lack of sanitation facilities in many Iloilo City barangays cause contamination of ground water supply tapped by community deep wells.

City Health Office

The city government's 2019 plan for zero open defecation now just restarting after getting sidelined by the COVID-19 pandemic

ILOILO CITY, Philippines  – Only a third of Iloilo City’s ambulant vendors have the required health card and only 21 of 181 barangays can claim zero open defecation status (ZOD), making Western Visayas’ premier governance and business center vulnerable to waterborne diseases like viral acute gastroenteritis (AGE).

The office of Mayor Jerry Treñas on Friday, September 23, said the city health office would step up compliance among 405 registered ambulant vendors and subject their goods to random testing.

At the same time, the mayor vowed to focus on helping barangays improve access to sanitary toilets and start a cholera vaccine campaign among children between one and ten years old. 

Viral gastroenteritis, also called stomach flu, and other waterborne diseases have infected more than 618 residents in 122 of 180 or 68% of the city’s barangays since August 28, when there were only four AGE cases, according to the regular news update from Treñas’ office.

Twelve residents have died from severe diarrhea caused by AGE.

The city recorded 11 new cases on September 20 after a few days of single-digit incidence. Flood-bringing monsoon rains and storms could swiftly cause a new surge in AGE cases, Treñas warned.

The outbreak “is not over yet,” said City Health Office (CHO) acting officer Dr. Annabelle Tang, urging street vendors to cooperate and not run away at the sight of compliance teams.

The crisis has complex roots: impoverished communities lacking sanitary facilities, waste seeping into reservoirs tapped by deep wells, commercial water providers that skirt testing and getting required permits, and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sidelined by COVID-19
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Only 11.6% of the city’s barangays have ended open defecation, the city health office said.

The city had presented its ZOD campaign to the Department of Health (DOH) Western Visayas office in November 2019 but COVID-19 happened in early 2020. For two years, local government funds – already depleted by a drastic slump in taxes due to shuttered businesses – went to saving lives, putting up isolation and quarantine centers, and the purchase of vaccines.

The ZOD program took off only in the second quarter of 2022, even as the city also battled the entry of monkeypox and rising cases of dengue.

In communities where homes do not have private toilets, the city will build six-cubicle communal toilets, said City Health Medical Officer IV Roland Jay Fortuna.

The city was on an upward economic mobility track before the pandemic, with a poverty incidence of only 4.4% in the first semester of 2018.

The loss of jobs related to the country’s long lockdown, however, increased the number of Iloilo City families living in poverty to 8.4%, around 8,500 families according to the Philippine Statistics Authority.

Mitigation efforts

The city government will target use of its 1,000 doses of the cholera vaccine in barangays where 12 cholera cases were recorded between August and September.

The city council’s support for the August 30 declaration of a state of calamity freed around P12 million for improved medical response, the rehabilitation of water systems, and enforcing compliance of local health regulations.

TESTING. A laboratory staff labels water samples for testing in Iloilo City, where the city health office has recommended the condemnation of at least 25 deep wells and reported health violations in 50 water-refilling station establishments. (City Health Office)

Around P3 million went for the purchase of medicines and supplies for the new hydration unit in the Arevalo district. Fortuna said the unit will start operations as soon as medical supplies arrive.

“We don’t want people to die of dehydration induced by AGE,” he told the city government’s daily news wrap. When patients can no longer tolerate oral (treatment), they can go to the hydration unit that can provide intravenous treatment. – Rappler.com

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