GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 6 Nov) – The Department of Health (DOH) declared on Wednesday the entire South Cotabato province as filariasis-free after sustaining a nearly zero prevalence rate of the disease since last year.
Health Assistant Secretary Enrique Tayag formally made the declaration on Wednesday in a simple ceremony held during the South Cotabato health summit in Koronadal City.
“South Cotabato is now the 20th province in the entire country and the second in Region 12 that are already considered free from filariasis,” said Tayag, who heads the Department of Health’s (DOH) national epidemiology center.
The provincial government of South Cotabato received a performance-based grant of P1 million from the DOH as a result of such accomplishment.
The DOH declared North Cotabato province in 2011 as the first filariasis-free area in Region 12, which also covers the provinces of South Cotabato, Sarangani and Sultan Kudarat as well as the cities of General Santos, Koronadal, Tacurong, Kidapawan and Cotabato.
According to the World Health Organization, filariasis is an infection caused by parasitic worms Wuchereria bancrofti, Brugia malayi or B. timori.
These parasites are transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito and develop into adult worms in the lymphatic vessels, causing severe damage and swelling (lymphoedema).
Elephantiasis, which is exhibited by painful, disfiguring swelling of the legs and genital organs, is a classic sign of late-stage disease.
Dr. Rogelio Aturdido Jr., South Cotabato health officer, said the province qualified for the declaration as filariasis-free after it posted an almost zero prevalence rate based on the results of the DOH’s lot quality assurance survey.
He said the province also exceeded its target for the filarial mass drug administration by posting a total rating of 102 percent in 2012.
“The declaration is not based on the number of cases found in an area but on the prevalence rate,” he explained.
In the case of South Cotabato, he said the DOH earlier selected around 3,000 children from portions of the province’s 10 towns and lone city to undergo the survey.
He said the identified children were subjected to blood tests or sampling to determine whether they are infected with the disease.
“Less than 0.1 percent of the children turned out positive and these cases are still in the initial stages, wherein the disease symptoms have not even manifested,” Aturdido said.
As a result of the declaration, all filarial mass drug administration activities in the province will be suspended for the next three years, said Marilou Amelo, DOH-12’s filariasis coordinator.
“After three years, we will visit again the affected communities to conduct another survey to determine if the disease transmission has continued or had stopped already,” she said.
Tayag challenged local government leaders and health workers in the provinces of Sarangani and Sultan Kudarat to intensify their efforts in eliminating the disease in their areas.
“The next target should be to make the entire Region 12 as filariasis-free” he said.
The official urged the provincial government of South Cotabato and other local stakeholders to help the two provinces in achieving the same feat.
“Whatever you learned from this experience, it is only proper that you also teach those in the neighboring provinces that are still trying to combat the disease,” he added.