Fight against neglected diseases a top priorityBy Theresa S. Samaniego
Philippine Daily Inquirer
The health challenge is up.
Even as the country has been consistently afflicted by various ailments and diseases and, at the same time, dragged down by the expensive cost of healthcare, Filipinos are again expected to rise up to the challenge of fighting certain neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).
Made up of 17 group of diseases, NTDs, when left untreated, can lead to blindness, cognitive impairments, limitation in psychomotor development, disfigurement and even death. Such diseases are said to be most common among rural folks and the poorest population in the world.
In the Philippines, six diseases are currently classified as Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) which affect some 40 million people.
These included lymphatic filariasis (caused by filarial parasites transmitted through bites of infected mosquitoes); schistosomiasis (also known as snail fever); soil-transmitted helminthiasis (caused by inadequate water and sanitary facilities and poor environmental sanitation practices); food and waterborne diseases (acquired by ingestion of contaminated food and/or water); leprosy (infectious debilitating disease caused by Mycobacterium leprae); and rabies (occurs after a transdermal bite or scratch by an infected animal).
“NTDs have already caused a lot of disability, death and suffering. We are facing a lot of NTDs and the challenge is up for our country to face these diseases,” noted Health Assistant Secretary Paulyn Jean Rosell-Ubial during the First National NTD stakeholders forum held recently in Davao City.
The said forum, which was hosted by the Department of Health with the support from the World Health Organization (WHO) and USAID, brought together various stakeholders working for NTDs in the Philippines. This gathering also served as an avenue to improve the working relations among the DOH, other national government agencies, local government units, nongovernment organizations, pharmaceutical firms and the academe.
“We can actually eliminate most of these diseases but we cannot do it alone, we need the support and commitment of the people,” Ubial said.
According to Health Assistant Secretary Enrique Tayag, it was the WHO that labeled several tropical diseases as “neglected” so that the public and stakeholders in the industry would take notice of these so-called NTDs.
“It was the strategy adopted by the WHO so that people will no longer forget such diseases. It also serves as a reminder to partners who tend to just focus on TB, HIV/AIDS, malaria that we also have this so-called NTDs that also cause bigger disabilities and premature deaths,” Tayag explained.
Tayag waxed optimistic that the DOH along with various stakeholders and the private sector will be able to eventually prevent, control and eliminate NTDs in the country.
“By 2025, NTDs can be completely eradicated but there are certain conditions that needs to be met. One, investments have to be sustained; two, the commitment of the local chief executives should be there; and three, the partnership with the different stakeholders should remain and be made stronger,” Tayag said.
Aside from partnerships, donations from pharmaceutical companies are similarly helpful in the fight against NTDs as these will help fund various projects and programs.
GSK Philippines, for one, has been a partner of the DOH since the government launched a campaign against NTDs in 2001, and has likewise been providing certain medicines for free.
The pharmaceutical firm has also committed to continue helping DOH in eradicating NTDs by 2025, and even beyond that target date, if necessary.
“Globally, we are providing certain medicines like albendazole for free. GSK donates to WHO and it is WHO that makes the allocation,” explained Daisy Cembrano of GSK Foundation-Philippines.
“We really want to help and we want to be a part of something that really matters, something that truly changes things because nothing beats the feeling of being able to help,” Cembrano added.
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