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EDITORIAL: Government inefficiency in the face of a health crisis


There is more than meets the eye about the diarrhea outbreak currently in progress in the remote municipality of Balabac in Southern Palawan. Recent news updates indicate that at least 10 people have already died in the outbreak, even as provincial health authorities admitted they are having difficulty validating the situation on the ground because of the absence of any efficient communication line with their rural health units.

Close to 300 local residents have already been treated at the local health facility since the outbreak, which officials said began in December.

The provincial health office has determined the cause of the outbreak. They blamed it on the contamination of the town’s groundwater with E.Coli bacteria, a type of fecal coliform bacteria generated by human and animal feces and waste. The provincial health office has declared that all the groundwater sources in the town proper that they have tested were positive of the harmful bacteria.

The diarrhea outbreak in Balabac followed the same pattern as the similar outbreak that occurred in Quezon town, also located in the remote southern tip of the Palawan mainland, late last year.

Reports quoting health authorities have established that in the case of Balabac, around 30 percent of the population does not have access to toilets. For a town which has no sewage facility in place, these facts alone suggest a reasonable conclusion that the outbreak is linked to sewage and sanitation problems besetting the town.

Sadly, this reality is commonplace in all of rural Palawan. Last year, the problem came to a head in Quezon. Now it’s Balabac’s turn. There could be more rural towns following suit if the trend continues.

What seems to be compounding the situation is the inadequate capacity of the province’s health system to address the problem in a more decisive and effective manner. It is baffling that the Provincial Health Office has to admit they are still cut off from the ground with their rural health units because of the lack or absence of communications, two months into the crisis as it is now. This should not anymore be a problem, given the government’s resources, but frustratingly it is.

Addressing the root cause of the Balabac diarrhea problem is a  given daunting task for our health authorities and policymakers. But the inability of our local government units in all levels to at least establish a working communication line in an emergency situation that had cropped up as early as December smacks of sheer inefficiency, if not irresponsibility and neglect.

Ten people have already died, according to the provincial health office. The PHO said they have yet to hear reports from more remote barangays of Balabac.Even that could not be properly ascertained by health authorities because of the inefficiency of the government’s support system.

It is a must that local and provincial authorities put their acts together and accord this health crisis situation the focus and attention it deserves.

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