FOR most people, toilet bowls are used for comfortable and proper defecation but some still do not have the awareness about its use and regard the item as something else, like a sink.

This was what Dr. Grace Berguiya, the Soil Transmitted Helminths control program manager of the Department of Health (DOH) in Davao Region, shared in an exclusive interview with SunStar Davao after emphasizing that behavior or attitude is but one of the crucial factors in eradicating worm infestation in the environment that are causing helmenthiasis, a disease cause by worm infection brought by parasitic worms such as tapeworms, flukes, and roundworms.

In her line of work, Dr. Berguiya witnessed before how a few people used toilets, which were given out to them through a government’s program, as an alternative tool for making kitchen sinks. That was the case before; Berguiya said, adding that she hoped it is no longer happening now.

“Sa una, naay mga toilet bowl nga wala ginagamit didto (in communities). Gihimo lang banggerahan... gihimo lang og sink. Sana ma change ang behavior sa atong katawhan nga ang toilet bowl na yan, kung tarong ang paggamit, dako ang mahimo para ma prevent ang infestation sa worm (There were unused toilet bowls delivered to communities that were later converted as tabletops for plates even used as sinks. If only the behavior of the people will change because toilet bowls when used properly can do a lot in preventing worm infestation),” Berguiya said.

During the simultaneous nationwide kick-off of the DOH’s Oplan: Goodbye Bulate campaign on January 18, 2017, having clean toilets is among those tips given by health experts and educators to the elementary and high school students to prevent acquiring soil-transmitted helminths (worms) as these parasites affect their overall well-being, consequently, academic performance. But adults are not exempted on this disease too and this might also result into low productivity in the workplace.

Why deworming is important

Being in a tropical country, Berguiya said that we are endemic to soil-transmitted helmenthiasis which is one of the most neglected tropical diseases in the Philippines. Hence, everyone is prone to acquiring diseases brought by soil parasites.

“We are endemic to worm infestations and we know for a fact nga kung ang bata bitukon, sige og absent tungod sa sakit ang tiyan, anemic sila [at] meron silang kakompetensya sa pagkaon nila (if a child has parasitic worms inside his or her body then it will result into absenteeism due to stomach pains and anemia and they will also compete with the parasites in the food they intake),” Berguiya explained.

Berguiya cited that a study revealed that one out of two children has the parasite.

Recognizing the importance of deworming in the academe and community, the DOH has collaborated with the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Department of Interior and Local Government in conducting the deworming program.

“Health and education really work hand in hand that is why we collaborate with the education sector, the DepEd in particular and the Local Government Units (LGUs),” Berguiya said in mixed Filipino and English.

“There are no dumb students. The teachers, no matter how brilliant and good they are, if their students are sickly, anemic, and constantly miss class then what do you expect? Their academic performance will be really low,” she added.

In a separate interview with the DepEd-Davao Region Assistant Director Mariblanca Piatos, she underscored the importance of deworming in a school child’s development since worm-free children are most likely to excel in their academic performance.

Right Attitude

The practice and development of the habit of washing hands with soap and water, using clean comfort rooms, and maintaining a clean environment can be very facilitative in the education process that’s why the DepEd has welcomed the partnership with the DOH on the program.

“The deworming activity is very facilitative in promoting the learning outcomes of the learner, that’s why as part of the advocacy, improvement or the development of healthy practices [and] values on health education can further be enhanced,” Piatos said.

Meanwhile, Berguiya said that deworming alone will not suffice in eradicating helminths in the environment as it is also important to instill among households to have comfort rooms that they could use.

She said that worms abound in our environment and there are so many factors why people acquire them. Although the environmental sanitation campaign in the region is doing well, there are still a few of the people who practice open defecation and this is just among the reasons why people acquired parasites.

Berguiya also cited that children also tend to play soil outdoors with their bare hands and forget to wash or clean them before eating thus, they would also ingest the microscopic parasites that they unconsciously acquire from the environment. Walking barefoot is also discouraged as blood-sucking soil parasites can penetrate into the skin and can even cause anemia to the infected person.

The public are hence advised to properly wash their hands after using the comfort room and also wash well the vegetables and food they bought from

the market upon cooking them.

“[A] dirty environment is one [of the] reason[s] ngano naay infestation sa worm,” Berguiya said.

Deworming campaign

According to Berguiya, the deworming campaign had long been done by the government agencies but it was only in July 2015 when it was institutionalized under the Oplan: Goodbye Bulate campaign of the DOH in partnership with DepEd and the LGUs.

With the program, free deworming tablets are given to pupils and students in public schools and children in the communities with age ranging from 1 to 18 years old. The deworming program is conducted twice a year.

In January 2016 and July 2016, the program has evolved into a month-long celebration and January was then dubbed as the National Deworming Month.

The government agencies used to do it in a one-day activity but they realized that the one-day coverage was not enough that’s why they stretched the activity into one month.

Out of school youth are also covered by the program and they can avail of deworming pills at their respective community health centers. Private schools may also avail of the program if their administrators express the desire to join in the activity, Berguiya explained.

In conducting the deworming program among school children, the DepEd has made a no-consent-no-deworming policy. On the other hand, Berguiya said that one can take the deworming pill anytime of the day as long as his or her stomach is full.

Piatos explained that DepEd is following a standard procedure in conducting the program where they really seek the consent of the parents before giving out deworming pills to pupils and students but she emphasized that it was no longer difficult for them to encourage participation in the communities as the people are already aware of the importance of deworming.

“So we are reaching our target each year [and] I think, in Davao region [we have already reached] more than 90 percent of [our] target,” Piatos said.

During the Kick-off of the Deworming program this year, the DOH, DepEd and local officials in Davao region had conducted a ceremonial deworming at the Maniki Central Elementary School in Kapalong, Davao del Norte which was participated by students and their parents.

“So far, we have a very good turnover of our accomplishment report in terms of our deworming coverage. Sa Davao region in particular, maayo ang response sa community and [they are already aware of it],” Berguiya revealed.

The support on the program from the grassroots may be well-received by the communities but according to Berguiya, we should still not remain coomplacent and must conduct activities for people’s awareness.