THE government will spend P350 million this year to construct thousands of new “sanitary” toilet facilities to help suppress the resurgence of the polio virus that spreads via the fecal-oral route, an administration lawmaker said yesterday.
Anakalusugan party-list Rep. Michael Defensor, chair of the House committee on public accounts, said that while the fund is in this year’s budget of the Department of Health (DOH), the money will be released directly to the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).
“The DPWH will construct the toilets based on a list of locations identified and specifications prescribed by the DOH,” said Defensor, also the vice chair of the committee on health.
Assuming the money is spent as it should be based on a fixed cost of only P20,000 per toilet, he said the P350 million should be enough to build some 17,500 new public toilets where they are most needed.
To ensure absolute transparency and accountability in the implementation of the project, Defensor urged both the DPWH and the DOH to catalogue on their websites the proposed sites of the new toilets and to update the list upon completion of every unit.
“Depending on how the two departments will properly build and maintain the facilities, Congress may or may not authorize additional funding in the future,” Defensor said.
He said the return of polio in the country has brought to light the importance of achieving zero open defecation (ZOD), “given that the fatal and disabling disease spreads when feces particles from an infected person are somehow ingested by another person.
“Immunization and ZOD are our strongest preventive measures against polio,” Defensor said. “We are also counting on barangay governments to build additional community toilets on their own to help achieve ZOD.”
He said many Filipinos in informal urban settlements and in the countryside still defecate in open ditches, canals, bushes, fields or exposed spaces due to the lack of toilets.
In Metro Manila alone, an estimated 3.5 million residents, or 25 percent of the population, still do not have ready access to a household toilet.
Quezon City Rep. Precious Hipolito Castelo lamented that despite the implementation of the DoH’s anti-polio vaccination program, a new case was recorded last month in the city’s second district, her district.
Castelo cited the case of a child from Barangay Batasan in her district who tested positive for Type 2 Polio by the Research Institute of Tropical Medicine.
She said this happened even if the victim had received five doses of the vaccine, two of which were administered during the DoH’s nationwide vaccination campaign.
“Many questions about the program need to be answered after a child in Quezon City was recently diagnosed to have polio despite undergoing vaccination,” she said. “I would like to know from DoH how many polio viruses out there are threatening our children and how many vaccines do they have to protect them.”