THE Department of Health (DOH) formally declared the province of Bukidnon as filariasis-free, the first province in Mindanao to be declared as such.

The declaration was done by DOH Assistant Secretary Paulyn Jean R. Ubial in simple ceremonies held at the Kaamulan Amphitheater in Malaybalay City recently.

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DOH-Northern Mindanao Director Dr. Jaime S. Bernadas hailed the dedication and commitment of the health workers from the barangays to the provincial and regional offices and the support of the local government units in combating filariasis, a dreaded infectious disease caused by mosquitoes.

Provincial Health Officer of Bukidnon, Dr. Teresita G. Damasco, acknowledged the assistance of the nurses of the Department of Education (DepEd) in their advocacy drive against filariasis.

The DepEd nurses helped in the mass drug administration to schoolchildren and the surveillance activity through immunochromatographic test (ICT) to six to seven years old together with the local health personnel.

Those who attended the declaration ceremony include Dr. Jeffrey Hii of the World Health Organization (WHO), Director Jaime Lagahid, and Dr. Leda Fernandez of the Infectious Disease Office of DOH Manila, representatives from program partners WR, Glaxo Smiths & Kline and Del Monte Philippines, LGU representatives, DOH-Northern Mindanao Assistant Regional Director Dr. Jose R. Llacuna Jr., regional technical and Longitudinal Health and Administrative Data (LHAD) chief Dr. Susan O. Dongallo, and her staff, and program coordinator Dr. Jocelyn P. Torrecampo.

As part of the program, a poster making contest on advocacy drive and control of filariasis, was conducted that was participated by different high school students.

Declared winners are Casey Miras of San Isidro College (first), Alexa Salubo of Bukidnon National High School (second), and Marie Angelique Maniego of San Isidro College (third).

According to the WHO, a place is declared filariasis-free if it attains the standard for prevalence rate of below one percent.

For Bukidnon, the prevalence rate is only .082 percent.

Filariasis, commonly known as elephantiasis, is a parasitic infection transmitted by a mosquito.

It is considered the second cause of permanent disability among infectious diseases and has been a health problem in the Philippines since 1907.

Infection starts when a mosquito bites a person and transmits the larvae into the blood circulation. The larva then develops into adult male and female worms and produces millions of microfilariea, which live in the person's body for two years. The adult parasites live for 10 years in the human body actively reproducing microfilariae for five to 50 years.

The first filaria case in the province was documented in Barangay Linabo, Malaybalay City in 1996 with the patient having lymphedema (swelling) of the right leg but was found negative during blood testing.

In 1997, another case was documented in Barangay Cacaon, Talakag town with the patient experiencing swelling of the right leg but was found negative during blood test. However, the patient was clinically diagnosed as filariasis-positive.

Prior to the declaration, among the places in Bukidnon with endemic cases include the municipalities of Talakag, Baungon, Libona, Malitbog, Manolo Fortich, Impasug-ong, Sumilao, Cabanglasan, San Fernando, Kibawe, and the barangays of Libertad in Quezon, Migluya in Dangcagan, and Sampagar in Damulog. (Oscar Caiña/DOH-X)