ZAMBOANGA DEL NORTE, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) – More than 1,000 grade school students were rushed to hospitals in Dipolog City for vomiting, stomach ache, and dizziness after taking “expired” medicine given by the Department of Health (DOH) during a nationwide deworming activity on Wednesday, July 29.
Students were also brought to hospitals in Dapitan City and neighboring municipalities, as well as in parts of Zamboanga del Sur and Zamboanga Sibugay.
The DOH said in a statement on Wednesday night that a total of 1,225 students consulted with health authorities following the deworming activity, while 86 were confined for further treatment.
The Zamboanga del Norte Medical Center (ZNMC) used its covered court to accommodate patients who started to arrive at 1 pm. Three hours later, patients continued to arrive in ambulances, police vehicles, private cars, motorcycles, and even bicycles.
Dr Angel Vergara, ZNMC chief, said he could not yet ascertain if the students suffered from “poisoning” as the medical staff were still busy attending to patients.
'Lack of information'
Dipolog City Councilor Praxides Rubia said he was with Dipolog Mayor Evelyn Uy when the latter called up the DOH Regional Office in Zamboanga City. Rubia said Uy was told that vomiting and stomach ache were normal reactions because the medicine they used was stronger than the one normally used.
Rubia said that if the deworming tablets were strong, the DOH should have given instructions to their personnel and teachers on what to expect.
“Why is the DOH so careless about this?” the councilor asked.
Zamboanga Sibugay Governor Wilter Palma said that, in his province alone, at least 40 grade school students were brought to different hospitals when they experienced stomach ache and nausea after they took the chewable deworming tablets provided by the DOH.
Palma also said that there was a lack of information dissemination on the part of DOH, particularly on how to deal with various reactions to the deworming medicine, albendazole.
Albendazole is known to have side effects such as those experienced by the students.
Photo by Gualberto Laput / Rappler
An angry parent showed Rappler the package of the medicine allegedly administered to students – Albendazole, Benzol 400-milligram chewable tablet – which indicated that the medicine was expired. The package was marked, “Exp. Date: Dec ’12,” or 3 years past its shelf life.
In Dapitan, Dr Ma Liza Tabilon, assistant schools division superintendent, said that a lot of pupils from Barangays Ilaya, Barcelona, Diwaan, and at the Dapitan Central Elementary School were also rushed to hospitals.
“They have similar symptoms – dizziness, stomachache, and vomiting,” Tabilon said.
Parents were asking why the pupils in Barangay Sicayab Bucana in Dapitan City who were given the same deworming tablets on Tuesday, July 28, did not experience dizziness, vomiting, and stomach ache.
Department of Health Region IX Director Nimfa Torrizo said health officials were checking reports in several schools in the region that observed the DOH-led National School Deworming Day on Wednesday.
The incident happened two weeks after nearly 2,000 people, mostly grade school students, in parts of Mindanao suffered from food poisoning after eating durian candy.
In a statement on Wednesday night, Health Secretary Janette Garin said that the symptoms experienced by some of the students are "normal effects" of the drug, which had been "checked by the Department of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, and the World Health Organization."
"These are not expired and were checked well by the DOH before distribution in different parts of the Philippines," Garin said in Filipino.
The DOH said that of the total of 6,448,900 children who were dewormed on Wednesday, "1,225 (0.018%) consulted health authorities after experiencing symptoms."
It said that 86 were admitted to 5 hospitals in Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, and Zamboanga Sibugay for further medications.
The DOH said that National School Deworming Day has been conducted for the past 9 years.
"Yearly, the DOH conducts two rounds of deworming. It is already administered to selected areas of the country prior to the event. It is only today that DOH launched a nationwide school-based deworming to reach more children," the DOH said.
The deworming campaign seeks to increase the mass administration coverage for 5-12 year-old students.
"Deworming children in schools has been found to be a good strategy to reduce the burden of soil-transmitted helminthiasis (STH) infections with a positive impact on children’s education and health," the DOH said. – with a report from Richard Falcatan/Rappler.com