Two in every 10 evacuees in Marawi City have been afflicted with cholera, but health officials were quick to assure the situation remains under control.

Over 200,000 residents from the Lanao del Sur city have fled their homes since fighting broke out between government forces and local terrorist groups three weeks ago. Although majority have found shelter with relatives and friends in other places, thousands have been displaced and are staying in evacuation centres.

“We are closely watching over a possible epidemic - which we hope will not happen - in terms of acute gastroenteritis or diarrhoeal diseases,” Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial was quoted by a local daily as saying.

Cholera patients have been isolated from residents, she added. Cholera - an acute diarrhoeal disease caused by eating or drinking food contaminated with the vibrio cholerae bacterium - takes about 12 hours to 5 days before symptoms present.

Among the symptoms are the sudden onset of frequent but painless watery stool, vomiting and dehydration.

The Department of Health (DOH) estimates there are less than 200 cases of gastro diseases, although the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has earlier warned that the onset of the rainy season could be an added burden to persons housed in evacuation centres and escalate diseases.

The DOH likewise reported five to six cases of acute gastroenteritis cases or stomach flu among evacuees.

“The situation is controlled at this point. The figure is minimal,” the Health chief said.

To help stem the spread of the disease, the health agency provided evacuation centres with toilet facilities and the means to store clean water.

At the same time, residents have been encouraged to undertake individual household disinfection. “That is the only way we can prevent the situation from reaching epidemic proportions,” Secretary Ubial said.

Cholera can be prevented through the consumption of safe and clean water, chlorination, proper storage of food so they are not infected by insects and rates, washing and cooking food properly, proper disposal of human wastes, using clean toilets, and keeping surroundings clean.

Meanwhile, the ICRC has observed a rise in the number of diarrhoea, upper respiratory infection, hypertension and fever among displaced residents from the city.

While they shared the health department’s assessment that the health situation is not yet critical, the international humanitarian organization’s personnel on the ground have expressed fears conditions may worsen with prolonged displacement.

Jose Amigo, ICRC Health Coordinator to the Philippines, cautioned against water-borne diseases arising from limited access to basic water and sanitation facilities, especially among the elderly and children.

The ICRC has been closely working with the DOH since fighting broke out in the city, and has commended the health agency for doing a “good job on the ground despite all the challenges they face.”

Additional medicines and medical supplies have been provided by the ICRS to 11 hospitals and health facilities in Tamparan, Balindong, Piagao, Saguiran, and Marawi in Lanao del Sur province, as well as in Iligan and Balo-I in Lanao del Norte.

Moreover, it has supported the Saguiran Rural Health Unit in setting up a mini-hospital by providing 10 folding beds and kits of essential medicines and medical supplies that is good for the treatment of 10,000 people for 3 months. MIMS

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