A health crisis staring us in the eye

According to the provincial health office, there are at present 128 cases of HIV-AIDS in the province. We are highest in the MIMAROPA Region. Of this number, 75 percent of patients come from Puerto Princesa City.

According to health officials, this alarming number isn’t at all linked to the rise in the number of tourists visiting the province. They say it is more reflective of the prevalence of male-to-male unprotected sex.

Puerto Princesa City has the highest incidence of teen pregnancy in the region, wherein somewhere over 20 percent of all pregnant women at any given time are young mothers.

Malnutrition incidence in the province is pegged at about 8 percent of the population. Observations raised by experts noted this is not necessarily directly attributed to poverty incidence which is estimated to be somewhere around 60 percent of the population. The problem of malnutrition, authorities say, is the lack of awareness on the part of mothers and parents.

And just when we thought leprosy is a thing of the past and Palawan’s association with this biblical-era disease is merely by way of Culion’s old sanitarium and now a mere historical relic, we find out that in fact there are new cases of leprosy emerging in the remote communities in southern Palawan.

In Quezon last month, a diarrhea outbreak killed four people and sent hundreds of others to the hospitals and health centers, prompting the municipality to declare a state of emergency. The problem, according to health officials, was linked to poor sanitation practices of mostly remote communities.

In Barangay Santa Lourdes and Tagburos, a random blood sampling of residents conducted by the Department of Health last year showed nearly half of the residents of the entire barangays are victims of mercury poisoning. The alarming situation was an evident aftermath of the unbridled mercury mining operations in the area several decades ago. It was also an indication of a creeping health crisis that could lead to a resurgence of the so-called Minamata disease if left unattended.

Just going by these bits of information, it is easy to point out that Palawan should be under a health emergency. It is necessary for authorities and policy makers to acknowledge this reality as it will help inform the actions that need to be done and policies that need to be put in place.

Right now, interventions taking place on the ground remain inadequate at best, irresponsible at worse. The mercury poisoning situation in Santa Lourdes and Tagburos is a case in point. Residents who are exposed to life threatening illnesses continue to wait for decisive and effective government intervention, months after warnings had been raised by the Department of Health.

Of particular interest is the prevalence of HIV-AIDS that had been adequately pointed out by local health authorities who are in the best position to understand and appreciate the magnitude of the problem. A proposal in the provincial board to create an HIV-AIDS Council that will oversee and coordinate government interventions had been bypassed in next year’s budget, which meant the local government has yet to appreciate the gravity of the problem.

It is high time our leaders and responsible government offices take stock of the overall state of health in the city and the province and take remedial actions before we realize it is too late. In the City of Puerto Princesa where most of these realities are taking place, it is time our leaders bury political hatches for the meantime and pool resources and talent to solve some if not all of these nagging problems.

The same is true in the provincial level, where we need strategic actions to address the root causes of these health problems that manifest in one crisis incidents after another.


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