PH spends less than P1B to fight neglected tropical diseases

MANILA, Philippines – According to the latest World Health Organization (WHO) report on neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), at least 6 of the 17 NTDs remain of great concern in the Philippines: dengue, rabies, leprosy, lymphatic filariasis, schistosomiasis, and soil-transmitted helminthiases.

NTDs are infections caused by a variety of pathogens that affect more than 1 billion people worldwide. These diseases are endemic in 149 countries, according to WHO.

With 500,000 people dying every year due to NTDs, WHO recommended countries to invest $2.9 billion (2.5 billion) annually until 2020 to treat these diseases and fight the insects and other vectors that carry them. 

But in the Philippines, where millions are at risk, the Department of Health (DOH) has only allocated a total of P887,182,612 ($20.03 million) under the 2015 budget for NTDs. 

Dengue

Dengue gets the highest allocation with P330 million ($7.45 million), and understandably so, since the Philippines is one of 4 countries in the Western Pacific which reported the highest dengue incidence in recent years.

In 2014 alone, DOH’s National Epidemiology Center reported a total of 59,943 dengue cases from January 1 to September 6 – although the numbers are significantly lower from 2013 by 59.57% (148,279).

Dengue, a disease common in tropical and sub-tropical countries in the world, is transmitted through the bite of an Aedes mosquito. Dengue fever is potentially fatal and mainly affects children.

The good news is that a dengue vaccine tested in the country and 4 other Asian countries showed promising overall efficacy and will be available in the health department’s vaccine program by July 2015. (READ: Soon: Vaccine from France to help fight dengue in PH)

Leprosy

Meanwhile, DOH has allotted a total of P501,682,612 ($11.33 million) to fight leprosy, lymphatic filariasis, and schistosomiasis both at the national and regional levels.

Among Western Pacific countries, the Philippines has the highest proportion of cases with multibacillary leprosy among new leprosy cases at 92.7% in 2013.

Leprosy is a disease caused by infection mainly of the skin. Multibacillary leprosy refers to patients with more than five skin damages or lesions.

While leprosy at the national level was eliminated in 1998, WHO said the Philippines ranks first in the region in terms of absolute number of leprosy cases.

The country also reported 1,729 new leprosy cases in 2013, making it one of 14 countries globally which reported more than 1,000 new leprosy cases that year. However, the 2013 figure is the Philippines’ lowest in 8 years, based on WHO data:

Lymphatic filariasis

The Philippines is also one of the 10 countries globally with the heaviest burden of lymphatic filariasis, an infection transmitted by mosquitoes that cause abnormal enlargement of limbs and genitals.

As of 2012, more than 29 million Filipinos live in lymphatic filariasis-endemic areas, and 645,232 persons are already infected with the disease according to WHO estimates. 

With decreased productivity and increased cost of care, the country’s annual economic loss is at $4.4 million a year.

Schistosomiasis

Schistosomiasis also remains highly prevalent in the Philippines, according to WHO. It is a snail- and water-born disease that is endemic to 28 provinces in the country.

About 12 million are at risk, with 2.5 million directly exposed to the disease.

"It is also known to claim 1.75 lives every 100 individuals afflicted with the disease, if left untreated," WHO said.

The recent report said efforts to stop transmission of schistosomiasis are compromised by little investment in water, sanitation and hygiene interventions.

Other NTDs

Two other NTDs need attention in the Philippines: dog rabies and soil-transmitted helminthiases.

Dog rabies, an NTD endemic in the Visayas, is an infectious viral disease responsible for the deaths of 200 to 300 Filipinos every year. 

The Philippines is among the top 10 countries in the world in terms of rabies prevalence. But after the 5-year Rabies-free Visayas Project – one of 3 projects with a $10 million funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – WHO said rabies control improved in Visayas.

WHO also identified the Philippines as one of 10 priority countries in controlling soil-transmitted helminthiases, a disease common among school-age children. 

The whole archipelago is endemic to soil-transmitted helminthiases, and 25 million Filipinos are at risk of the disease which stunts growth, impairs development, and causes anemia, Vitamin A deficiency, malnutrition, and intestinal obstruction.

Starting 2020 to 2030, WHO said it will only require countries to invest $1.6 billion annually as the diseases are reduced or eliminated. The total investment for 16 years adds up to $34 billion. 

But with a measly P887 million in the Philippines' 2015 budget, will the country achieve the targets for universal coverage against NTDs by 2030? – Rappler.com

(1 US$ = P44.28)

Data from the Office of Infectious Diseases, DOH-National Center for Disease Prevention and Control

Jee Y. Geronimo

Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.

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