ALABEL, Sarangani (March 20, 2019) - “We are now about 80 percent,” Provincial Health Officer Dr. Arvin Alejandro said, as he gave an update on the province’s implementation on Zero Open Defecation (ZOD).
Already “a total of 72 out of 141 barangays are declared as ZOD in Sarangani before the end of 2018. And additional four more were validated this January,” he said.
Alejandro also reported that Alabel, which is technically ZOD at 90%, is the next to be declared as ZOD town and expectedly to be followed by Maasim within the next six months.
Dr. Maria Fe Viviane Sespeῂe, Department of Health (DOH) Region 12 program officer on Environmental and Occupational Health, said she was “pleased to take note of the progress of Zero Open Defecation Program in provinces like Sarangani and North Cotabato.”
The campaign for ZOD in Sarangani took off when Alejandro opened the minds of the provincial leadership on cases of admissions on acute gastroenteritis in 2014.
He showed Governor Steve Chiongbian Solon and then Congressman Manny Pacquiao the report on households having no toilets from 1994 to 2014, that according to him if there had been 1,000 cases of acute gastroenteritis annually in that period, that would cost the provincial government P6 million per year based on the P6,000 Philhealth case rate.
But what had even struck them most, he said, was the estimated four million tons of feces the 28,000 households that time without toilet could produce in a year based on the standard daily production of feces.
This prompted the officials to push for municipalities to adapt the vision that in Sarangani, no one would die or get sick out of diseases arising from open defecation.
In 2015, the DOH and the United Nations Population Fund assisted Sarangani in making leadership governance program as one of the ingredients in the catalyst for change.
“It is how our leaders will own the issue, will own the problem, and how we will be able to communicate to others to own the issues likewise and come up with a common decision,” Alejandro said. He pointed out this has pushed leaders in Malungon to realize the vision being the first declared municipality as ZOD.
After 2015, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan came up with a resolution scaling up sanitation province-wide with an initial budget of P300,000 intended to purchase cement for toilet bowls.
In the next year, it was increased to P500,000, P350,000 in 2017 and another P1-million for 2018.
It was in 2014, Alejandro said, that Sarangani rolled out the Leadership Governance Program because the province did not have a barangay that has a sanitation action plan before “but when we engaged the barangays.. awa ng Diyos meron na tayong 65 barangays with active Local Health Boards if sanitation ang pinag-uusapan.”
With the help also of Water and Sanitation Program, Alejandro said they were “breaching the last miles and able to come up with a sanitation task force down to the municipal level.”
This has also enabled municipalities to come up with ordinances, he said.
In an assessment of Malungon last 2016 after it was declared ZOD, a positivity rate of 23% single and mixed infection for soil-transmitted helminthiasis was noted.But further investigation traced that the infection was triggered by a nearby barangay outside Sarangani that was not yet declared ZOD.
This issue called Governor Solon’s attention for Sarangani to have a more comprehensive convergence service as he “cannot afford to fail on all health aspects in Sarangani.”
Alejandro pointed out though that according to studies, pathogens from open defecation can still stay in the environment for a maximum of two years hence, “it will just be fine for us that gastroenteritis is still among the top five leading cause of deaths within two years after the declaration of ZOD.”
United Nations Children's Fund Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Communication for Development Specialist Elmira Bacatan said Sarangani’s sanitation program is not the usual programming of giving toilets because they do not have one, “but they start ensuring that people do understand that there has to be a behavior change, an awakening that they need to change the way they defecate.”
That alone, she said, is something new because Sarangani works on a whole package “where there’s support from the leaders, from the frontline health workers... they actually plan, they actually put a budget, they spend the budget, they go out and even convince people for changing their behavior.”
“I think,” Bacatan said, “that is the way to go if we really want to achieve sustainable sanitation program by 2028. Baka ang Sarangani can already demonstrate that for the whole of the country.”
“It seems Sarangani was seen as a microcosm for the Philippines that if leaders would take action “kayang-kaya ng buong Pilipinas na ma-ZOD,” Alejandro said. (Beverly C. Paoyon/SARANGANI INFORMATION OFFICE)