By Macon Araneta

Only 11 per cent of the country’s barangays (or 4,625  out of a total 42,045) are  certified Zero open defecation  (ZOD), where people have abandoned the practice of open defecation, said Health Sec. Francisco Duque III. 

The 2017 Philippine National Demographic and Health Survey also showed that 4.5 percent of Filipinos do not yet have toilets and tend to practice open defecation, while another 24 percent use unimproved sanitation facilities. 

Duque said this  amounts to an estimated 28 million Filipinos whose poor sanitation practices pose a serious threats to the population in terms of health, nutrition, protection, education, environment and productivity.

Due to this, Duque cited the importance of using a toilet, as well as the practice of hand-washing with soap after using the toilet and before eating in  preventing  the transmission of polio, among other diseases. 

“Currently the Department of Health (DoH) is conducting a mass vaccination campaign either through door-to-door activities or at the respective health centers, regardless of vaccination status. 

Aside from vaccination, Duque said the DoH is reminding the public to practice good hygiene and urging the local government units through the aid of DoH Centers for Health Development to intensify their Zero Open Defecation program. 

On the other hand, Sen. Cynthia Villar has underscored  the need to spend more to stop this practice that oftentimes cause  diseases like polio and also pollute bodies of water.

In the Senate hearing on the PHP93.6 billion budget of the DoH, Villar stressed the government should spend more for prevention rather than cure.

“If we want to prevent diseases, we must observe hygiene,” she said. 

UNICEF data shows that an average Filipino spends about PHP1,000 for treating illnesses caused by lack of toilet facilities. 

She noted that open defecation results in people being at risk of contracting diarrhea, cholera and other waterborne diseases, intestinal worm infections, malnutrition and stunting of children. 

Villar emphasized the negative effects  of lack of toilet facilities or lack of proper hygiene and sanitation

She mentioned about the re-emergence of the polio disease which according to the DoH is one of the diseases that emerged when there’s open defecation..

Furthermore, the Senator  related that of the seven million Filipinos who have no toilet facilities, 3.5 million are in Metro Manila. 

Considering an average of five members per family in the National Capital Region, she said about 700,000 toilets are needed.

The  government, the Senator further said, needs PHP14 billion to come up with about 700,000 toilets based on the PHP20,000 per toilet as estimated by the Department of Public Works and Highway.

Villar also disclosed that Duque promised they would be compliant with the sustainable development goal of zero open defecation after 10 years.

Villar has misgivings that DoH’s target will be achieved with the current existing number of toilets. she said this might take 40 years. 

She also questioned the measly PHP2 million budget allotted for the building of sanitary toilets under the environmental and occupational health on the DOH budget for next year.