THE Department of Health (DOH) has called for the construction of at least 3.5 million toilets in the country, as part of a solution to the problem of polio, which has returned to the Philippines after almost two decades that the disease was declared eliminated in 2000.
While the big drop in the nation’s vaccination program was held to be the immediate cause of the return of polio, the DOH and the World Health Organization (WHO) said a big factor was inadequate sanitation and hygiene.
When a child is immunized with the Oral Polio Vaccine, the WHO explained, a weakened form of the virus multiplies in the intestine and the body reacts by producing antibodies to fight the virus. The polio virus is then excreted with the feces, and where there is inadequate sanitation and hygiene, the excreted polio virus spreads in the community before finally dying out.
The DOH thus called for a “zero open defecation” environment which, apparently is not the case in many parts of the Philippines today. Thus the DOH said the government must build 3.5 million toilets in the country, most of them in Metro Manila.
“Out of the 3.5 million na kailangan na toilets, majority is in the National Capital Region,” Health Undersecretary Enrique Domingo said. “Toilet ng mga pamilya at bahay ito. Talagang maraming families ang walang sanitary toilets.”
There we have finally an explanation for the other problem we are now grappling with in Metro Manila – the pollution of Manila Bay and all the rivers and esteros flowing into it. The pollution is such that swimming and all other contact with the water is prohibited. The last time the waters off Malate, Manila, were tested, the finding was 2.44 billion MPN (most probable number) per 100 millimeters, way above the safe swimming level of 100 MPN.
The DENR was given the job of cleaning up the bay, after it successfully cleaned up Boracay in six months last year. But Manila Bay’s pollution is such, the DENR found, that it will take more than 10 years to clean it up.
Where is all the pollution coming from? The DOH has now provided a big part of the answer. It is coming from millions of households in Metro Manila. It is also coming from piggeries and factories which throwtheir wastes into the river and its many tributaries and esteros. But most of it comes from millions of houses which have no toilets.
The DOH is now moving to build 3.5 million toilets – most of these in Metro Manila – to help solve the polio problem in the country. This should also help solve the DENR’s huge pollution problem in Manila Bay.