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DOH seeks multi-agency collaboration against zoonotic diseases in SOCCSKSARGEN

DOH-CHD XII recently led an inter-agency meeting to build a stronger relationship and collaboration in addressing concerns regarding zoonotic diseases such as rabies, leptospirosis, and other illnesses that are spread between animals and humans. (Photo by Danilo Doguiles/PIA Region 12)

KORONADAL CITY, South Cotabato (PIA) -- The Department of Health-Center for Health Development in the Soccsksargen region (DOH-CHD XII)  recently convened a multi-stakeholder meeting aimed at establishing an inter-agency partnership in response to the threat of zoonotic diseases.

Zoonotic diseases are infections caused by germs such as viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungi transmitted between humans and animals. Some zoonoses are severe and life-threatening, such as rabies, leptospirosis, dengue, and henipavirus.

"The activity is intended to jumpstart a partnership that would finally address cases of zoonotic diseases in Region 12," Dr. Amebella Taruc, chief of DOH-CHD’s Local Health Support Division, explained. 

 Aside from the DOH-CHD, representatives from the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Interior and Local Government, and the Philippine Information Agency also attended the meeting.

Taruc said they are expecting the Department of Education, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and other agencies and sectors to join in the upcoming meetings and get involved in the initiative.

Dr. Camille Fugio, head of the agency's Infectious Diseases Cluster, said the meeting also aimed to apprise stakeholders of the rabies, leptospirosis, and henipavirus cases in the Soccsksargen region.

"We also hope to gather the commitments of other agencies and establish a line of communication," Fugio explained.

Dr. Dyan Zubelle Parayao, RESU Cluster Head, noted that the increase in the number of animal bite patients served in Soccsksargen from 52,852 in 2022 to 91,158 in 2023 could be attributed to the increase in number and growing popularity of animal bite centers. (Photo by Danilo E. Doguiles/PIA Region 12)

In her presentation, Dr. Dyan Zubelle Parayao, cluster head of the Regional Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit (RESU), noted that in 2023, Soccsksargen recorded 27 deaths due to rabies, 13 of whom were confirmed to have been bitten by domesticated dogs.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), people are usually infected with rabies following a scratch or deep bite from an animal with rabies, which is, in 99 percent of the cases, a dog. 

In the same period, the region also recorded 63 infections and seven fatalities from leptospirosis. The total number of cases in 2023 was 83 percent higher as compared to cases in 2022, Parayao added. 

WHO defines leptospirosis as a disease caused by bacteria that is transmitted to humans who come into direct contact with the urine of infected animals.  

Parayao underscored that although it has nearly been a decade since Region 12 and the Philippines experienced a henipavirus outbreak, recurrence remains potent. 

From March 10 to 23, 2014, Soccsksargen, particularly Sultan Kudarat Province, reported 17 cases of henipavirus infection with 11 victims that developed acute encephalitis syndrome, resulting in the deaths of nine people. Its transmission was determined to be direct exposure to sick horses and contact with persons who had encephalitis, believed to be due to the exposure to the disease.

In the 2014 leptospirosis outbreak, a serological survey of animals in the area found five dogs and five bats positive for the Nipah virus.

Responsible pet ownership, mass vaccination, and enforcement of legislation remain the most effective strategies against the control and prevention of rabies, DOH-CHD XII officials emphasized. (Photo by Danilo Doguiles/PIA 12)

During the regional stakeholders' meeting, representatives from DILG and DA committed to support the program, initially with efforts to enjoin compliance and implementation by local government units of their legislation, such as ordinances related to rabies vaccination, responsible pet ownership, and others.

The DOH-CHD also plans to tap DepEd for a massive dissemination campaign on zoonotic diseases in schools as well as the DENR for identification of potential environmental factors that may contribute to the control of disease outbreaks, such as the identification and monitoring of roosting areas of bats and similar activities.

Meanwhile, the PIA pledged support for the partnership through public information, including but not limited to radio broadcasts, social media campaigns, press conferences, and other platforms. (DED - PIA SOCCSKSARGEN)

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