Lababo in the time of cholera

The province of Catanduanes was recently highlighted in the news due to the prevalence of cholera cases in that area. It seems that starting from January-June in this year 2012 they were able to record approximately 1370+ cases that occurred within the said time period. Holy crap! If you do the math, that’s on the average 220-230 cases per month, and 7-8 cases a day! And let’s not neglect to mention that there have already been eighteen (18) confirmed deaths.

However you look at it, though, there is nothing remotely romantic about the scenery above, unlike the setting of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel Love in the Time of Cholera. Now you know where I got the title of this write-up from.

For those of us who aren’t doctors, cholera is an infection in the small intestine caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. The main symptoms are profuse, watery diarrhea and vomiting. Transmission occurs primarily by drinking water or eating food that has been contaminated by the feces of an infected person, including one with no apparent symptoms. The severity of the diarrhea and vomiting can lead to rapid dehydration and electrolyte imbalance, and death in some cases.

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Just recently, they termed it an “outbreak” although the local government and the residents had been dealing with it for 6 months. Certain parts of Catanduanes are now in a “state of calamity”. So there appears to be an obvious question to ask: why did the local government unit allow the problem to persist for that long before doing drastic measures?

Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Enrique Ona was quoted in a news report as saying that they consider the problem “essentially contained” because now they’re averaging 2 new cases of cholera instead of 9. I don’t know about you, but I would consider the problem “contained” only if incidences no longer occurred. Technically, it’s only been “reduced”.

DOH Secretary Ona also “pinpointed” the culprit: poor sanitation, and the fact that the source of drinking water for the towns affected was polluted, primarily with human fecal waste. This fecal waste, as mentioned above, is exactly a primary source of cholera.

According to a radio interview on Radyo5 92.3, an official from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRMMC) was also quoted as saying that the residents of the affected towns are to blame for the incidents of cholera. The presence of the pollutants in the river where many residents get their water from was the thing that did it.

Are government officials shirking in passing some of the blame to the neglect and indifference of the local citizens this time? Not exactly, but the time for blame games is past; the challenge for the government and the citizens is how to keep incidents like this from ever happening again.

In Garcia Marquez’s novel, one of the main themes is likening being love sick to a disease, like cholera. In the same way, gross negligence, lethargy, ignorance, and stupidity are diseases which permeate the Filipino psyche and environment. Care for their natural surroundings was neglected in the same way people forget to clean a lababo (kitchen sink), and this time the residents paid the ultimate price for it.

With regards to orienting Pinoys on proper waste disposal and management, it’s easier said than done, really. We will find many excuses not to do it, but when the sh*t hits the fan, or in this case the water, we find everyone but ourselves to blame for our circumstances. Teaching us to take care of ourselves is like talking to a brick wall.

In addition, I know many Pinoys who still don’t want to go to the hospital even if it’s already blatantly obvious that they need medical attention. It seems like they’re more afraid of the medical bill than they are of dying from their disease or condition. It’s a mindset I’ve never been able to appreciate.

Keep in mind that cholera is not the only disease that the DOH and we Filipinos have to deal with. With the onset of the rainy season, Dengue fever is going to be just one of the many problems that are expected to magnify.

If the DOH allowed the problem to go on for 6 months before doing substantive measures in a small part of the province, what exactly will be their plan if the disease breaks out in other provinces as well, or worse, the metro? Our government officials, most likely, will only be able to throw up their hands in the air and “pray” for a miracle.

This should also indicate a warning to us who were outside of the afflicted area: it can happen to us. Better we take the precautions now, and learn from their mistakes, or we can end up in hospitals, or in the morgue, just like those who died.

Nature has such a cruel sense of humor. If we treat her like dirt, that’s exactly what she gives back to us. Many of us Filipinos haven’t exactly learned this lesson too well. We’re not only treating our environment like a dirty kitchen sink, we’re also going down the drain.

7 Replies to “Lababo in the time of cholera”

  1. If you give a Filipino choices – even with a clear understanding of the eventual outcomes and/or consequences – a Filipino will ALWAYS make the wrong choice. The entire society is designed to self-destruct, or at least that’s how it seems to most outsiders. (It also explains how an inconsequential nebbish like Noynoy can be elected president and how a thief and murderer like Imelda Marcos can end up voted into Congress rather than throw into jail.)

    1. I remember reading a comment in a forum somewhere that Filipinos are like walking examples of Murphy’s law. It’s a wonder we’re still around.

      I’ve never been able to forget this quote from Men in Black:
      “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.”

      It just goes to show that the thinking ability of a population is inversely proportional to its size. And all that aid from the government isn’t going to help the people if they don’t want to help themselves.

  2. Cleanliness is next to Godliness; my Grand mother had taught me. There is no good way to dispose waste. Flood comes during rainy season. Drinking water is polluted. The Cholera is there…what did the Aquino administration do for this problem. They are too busy impeaching people. They neglected the basic services…

  3. We lack information and proper dissemination. In this time and age, you’d think that when we treat ourselves as an “advanced” developing country, we’d have gotten rid of diseases like this.

    1. Call me cruel, but I think we ought to let the cholera run its course to make Darwin work on the Filipinos. All that knowledge floating around, and Pinoys still commit the sin of deliberately remaining dumb.

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