Neglected tropical diseases in the Philippines

A woman with elephantiasis of the lower extremities

Despite the constraints of resources and capacity, the Department of Health (DOH) has made considerable contributions to public health improvements since health sector reforms began in the late 1990’s. To prevent, control and eliminate as many of these infectious and tropical diseases as possible national campaigns were launched such as the “Garantisadong Pambata” (Assured for the Child), a 2006 campaign for immunization, vitamin A and iron supplements. In keeping with global agreements, DOH designed and implemented the Soil Transmitted Helminthiasis Control Program (STHCP) in 2002, the National Filariasis Elimination Program (NFEP) in 2000 and, the Schistosomiasis Control Program (SCP) in 2001. The accomplishment of the endemicity and prevalence mapping activity (despite being heavily resource-constrained) for the three diseases was a first step towards effective elimination and control.

Greater political and government support was also accomplished with the 2006 Executive Order signed by the President of the Philippines declaring “November as Filariasis Mass Treatment Month” in addition to formal expressions of commitment to the elimination of lymphatic filariasis, control of schistosomiasis and STH, in DOH programs such as FOURmula One (an implementation strategy to push for health sector reforms), the Disease Free Zones Initiative, and the National Objectives for health.

Lymphatic Filariasis is also known as elephantiasis or “tibak” in the local language. Three million (3M) Filipinos are at risk of getting the disease. To date, 44 provinces from the 80 provinces in the Philippines are endemic of elephantiasis.

As of 2011, nine (9) provinces have eliminated lymphatic filariasis namely, Agusan del Sur, Biliran, Bukidnon, Compostela Valley, Cotabato Province, Dinagat Island, Romblon, Sorsogon and Southern Leyte.

Elephantiasis is a disease transferred by mosquitoes from a person infected with microfilaria parasite to another person. Lymphatic Filariasis is a parasitic infection in the blood. Enlargement (lympheodema) of the arms and legs are common among Filipinos. Aside from the lymphoedema of the upper or lower extremities, enlargement of the breast of women and enlargement of the scrutom for males.

Every November there is a Mass Drug Administration (MDA) being conducted in identified endemic provinces. Two drugs namely, Diethylecarbamacine (DEC) and albendozale should be taken by the residents of the provinces that are endemic of the disease.