Literatus: A cattle-borne disease: Correct and erroneous facts

IT is good to know that in the January 2016 issue of the International Journal of Infectious Diseases, three of our researchers (Remigio Olveda, Veronica Tallo and Marianette Inobaya) at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, a Department of Health agency, lead co-authored a comprehensive study on a neglected tropical disease still persistent in the country: Schistosomiasis.

The study focused on animal-borne (zoonotic) schistosomiasis, which in our country involves bovines, a scientific term referring to cattle; that is, cows, carabaos and similar animals.

The researchers reported the existence of 28 endemic provinces in the country, representing a total population of 12 million. These provinces include 190 endemic municipalities and 1,212 barangays. As confirmed between 2004 and 2006, the foci of endemicity in the country are in the north (Gonzaga, Cagayan) and in the Visayas (Calatrava, Negros Occidental).

Past national prevalent surveys pegged the rate at less than one percent, which indicates a “close to elimination” status. However, the study disputed these results as unreflective of realities on the ground, which showed that around 30 percent of Filipinos are still being treated annually for schistosomiasis in endemic zones and roughly the same rate of these patients even did not take the treatment. They have observed that an estimate of five percent in endemic prevalence will be optimistic.

The study also observed that the current national program of treatment involves only human infection and ignored treating bovine infection. In a sense, the source of these infections are far from being eradicated, which means that re-infection is always a highly reasonable probability.

Olveda and colleagues attributed this gross underestimation of facts on the prevalent schistosomiasis in the country to faulty reporting of data from community surveillance programs, the use of these nationally consolidated data in creating risk maps, to the highly prevalent status of the disease.

A study like this is what we need today. We need studies that verify nationally reported data in order to determine reporting problems in the local surveillance program implementation.

Moreover, there is an intuitive reason for this lower-than-real turnout of schistosomiasis data. For instance, a local government unit health worker who failed to check on its designated area of responsibility will intuitively report less cases of schistosomiasis than more to at least justify internally her lack of interest in doing her job persistently. However, that is only a possibility; that is, speculation at best.

However, more reasons than that speculation can explain such a wide discrepancy of reported data and verified facts. Welcome to the real state of the community disease surveillance system.

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