Current status of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) in the Philippines

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In the Philippines, ten NTDs are prevalent, but only six namely LF, schistosomiasis, STH, food-borne trematodiases, rabies and leprosy are considered to be of public health importance. The 81 provinces in the country are endemic for at least one of these NTDs. Others may be endemic for two or even more of these diseases. Since 2000, after the Philippines accepted and implemented the WHO guidelines for NTDs prevention, control and elimination, significant progress has been achieved in reducing the magnitude of NTDs endemic in the country. Since 2009, out of 46 filariasis-endemic provinces, the number of provinces that has eliminated LF has progressively increased so that by 2015, 76% are already LF-free. By 2019, only four provinces remain endemic for LF.

For schistosomiasis, as of 2012, report from the Department of Health (DOH) put the number of high endemic provinces at 10, moderately endemic at 6 and low to elimination levels at 12. For STH, results of the National Parasite Survey in the Philippines among school-aged children conducted in 2015 by the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, the research arm of the Philippine DOH, however, showed that the overall cumulative prevalence was 28.4% with a prevalence range between 7.1% and 67.4%. The figures are way above the <20% prevalence standard set by the World Health Organization.

Control and prevention efforts for FBTs just gained traction with the call of WHO for elimination of NTDs in 2015. There is an urgent need to update information by an intensive national baseline survey that can validate previous data as well as generate new information on the magnitude of the FBT problem in the Philippines. For leprosy, elimination activities have been intensified in high prevalence areas and from 2009 to 2013, case detection and prevalence were sustained at <1.0 per 10,000 population. Rabies elimination activities have been effective that by 2011, only five regions out of 16 remained with the highest number of rabies cases. In a period of seven years from 2010 to 2017, the number of rabies-free provinces and municipalities increased from 3 to 49.

Problems continue to hound the NTD programmes in the Philippines as priorities shift to more urgent health problems in a country that is weighed down not only by the triple burden of disease but serious health consequences of emergencies and disasters and the fast-growing population itself. Paradigm shifts are suggested to replace the traditional and conventional perspectives of control. These include change from disease approach to intervention approach to allow for integration of strategies targeting several NTDs and multisectoral, multidisciplinary approach requiring strong, viable and sustainable partnerships involving various agencies of the government, public and private sector, pharmaceuticals, academe, researchers, local government units and the endemic communities themselves.