Red Cross helps communities prevent water-borne diseases using surveillance mechanism

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By MJ Evalarosa, IFRC

The Philippine Red Cross, together with the state health department, and with support from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), recently rolled out an orientation on the Surveillance in Post Extreme Emergencies and Disaster (SPEED) programme. SPEED is a mechanism activated during emergencies to provide real-time health information to around 65 Red Cross community volunteers in the provinces of Catanduanes, Albay, Camarines Sur and Marinduque.

“Simply put, it is a community-based surveillance mechanism that ensures early detection of an increase in communicable and non-communicable diseases, and enables the identification of appropriate response in preventing diseases and averting deaths,” says Dr. Abhishek Rimal, Health Delegate for the IFRC in the Philippines. “Updating their surveillance mechanism will strengthen the Red Cross’ capacity to address health concerns following a disaster.”

The mechanism was put into place as Red Cross staff and volunteers continue their relief efforts in communities affected by Typhoon Nock-Ten. The typhoon knocked down trees and utility poles, some of which damaged water lines in areas that have barely recovered from a diarrhoea outbreak. Coupled with poor hygiene practices and continuing rains, the damaged water sources have raised concerns that water-borne diseases would recur.

25 community health volunteers from the island province of Catanduanes and 40 others from Albay and Camarines Sur were trained by members of the Provincial Health office and the Philippine Red Cross in their local Bicolano dialect.

“At this stage, it is essential to monitor certain non-communicable diseases,” says Jose Mari Amaranto, a sanitation inspector from the provincial health office who was one of the main trainers during the orientation. “Catanduanes has been experiencing intermittent internet connection since Typhoon Nock-Ten hit the island, so we have been training them on how to send a report using text messages.”

According to the provincial health office, at least 28 percent of the population in the area practice open defecation. A diarrhoea outbreak occurred in 2012, and most recently in November 2016 after Typhoon Sarika swept through the area. The provincial health office fears that the cases would worsen in the coming weeks.

“The Red Cross set up a Water and Sanitation camp near a water source in the town of Virac so that the Red Cross water tanks can distribute and refill water stations established in the typhoon-affected areas,” says Philippine Red Cross Catanduanes Chapter Administrator, Raymund Reynaldo.

As of 13 January, the Red Cross has distributed nearly 177,000 litres of potable water in the affected provinces. While conducting health and hygiene promotion activities, Red Cross volunteers also distributed over 2,500 bottles of hyposol (sodium hypochlorite solution) to help households purify and disinfect their contaminated water.