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Neglected tropical diseases and rabies: the struggles of the Philippine government

Mar. 31, 2017

The Philippines has long been plagued by neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) such as schistosomiasis, soil-transmitted helminthiasis, leptospirosis, dengue and rabies. Poorer rural communities are disproportionally affected.

Back in 2010, the Philippine government decided it was time to act, and made Universal Health Care (UHC) a top priority to concentrate on eradicating NTDs from the country.

Unfortunately, the Philippine government focused on mass treatment instead of identifying and targeting individual families at risk. Consequently, the government’s efforts were not as effective as they could have been.

Mixed results with neglected tropical diseases

In 2013 alone, rural communities were heavily infected with schistosomiasis, with some having aprevalence as high as 65%. The government managed to treat over 865,000 people.

The government’s strategy worked to some extent. However, it continues to struggle with other NTDs.

Dengue continues to plague the country, with over 842,000 cases each year. A vaccine was approved in December 2015 and was immediately administered to children from nine years of age. However, it has not proven effective due to the prohibitive cost of the vaccine.

Leptospirosis is another highly prevalent disease in the Philippines. Due to a lack of research, existing surveys and literature about this disease, its health risks are not common knowledge. Many have tried to develop an effective vaccine for leptospirosis, but so far none have succeeded.

The battle against the rabies epidemic

Rabies is yet another neglected disease the Philippines has struggled with. Though 100% preventable, 200 to 300 Filipinos die of rabies annually. In 2015 alone, the Philippines Department of Health (DOH) recorded over 430,000 cases of animal bites resulting in 226 deaths.

Consequently, on December 10, 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and the Global Alliance for Rabies Control (GARC) established a new framework to eliminate human rabies based on three key actions:

  1. Making human vaccines and antibodies affordable for everyone
  2. Ensuring people who are bitten receive treatment quickly
  3. Mass dog vaccinations to tackle the disease at its source

According to Dr. Bernard Vallat, OIE Director General, “Eliminating canine rabies through dog vaccination is the most cost-effective and only long-term solution.” In January 2016, the Department of Health (DOH) began providing free rabies vaccinations across the Philippines.

Some battles won, others still being fought

The Philippines has long been plagued by NTDs and rabies. While the Philippine government has successfully combated some of the diseases, it continues to struggle with others. Vaccination is the ultimate key to overcoming the devastating effects of these diseases.

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