The Department of Health, in cooperation with partner agencies, has launched a handbook that contain new guidelines aimed at curbing the number of gastroenteritis cases, which cost the government Php 2 billion annually.
The Philippine National Standards for Drinking Water of 2017 (PNSDW), is the result of a DOH directive (Administrative Order No. 2017-0010) seeking to update the existing standards of drinking water. Its objective is to address a number of new health issues and concerns that have emerged since the last update a decade ago.
Contained in the handbook are experiences of water service providers, the new scope and definition from the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) about water supply indicators, need for water quality standards during emergency, and newly-crafted guidelines by the World Health Organization (2011) on the safety of drinking water.
“Defining the standards and procedures to determine the safety of drinking water, a basic necessity in life, is certainly crucial. Thus, the DOH is proud to present this document which outlines the National Standards for Drinking Water of 2017,” said Secretary of Health Francisco Duque III, in a statement.
“Truly, I must say that water is life so we have to protect, conserve and put so much importance in it in the course of our everyday living,” he added.
Preventing waterborne diseases
During the launching of the handbook, Dr Leda Hernandez, Director of DOH's Infectious Disease Office, said with the new standards, there is "another opportunity for us to work together to ensure the water that come to our homes that we use to drink and cook - is safe."
She added that considering the times, as well as new knowledge and technology, "we cannot afford to put our citizens at risk of waterborne and other water-related illnesses."
Any deviation to the standards will result in serious consequences for the public, she underscored.
According to WHO, waterborne illnesses related to unsafe water and sanitation include cholera and diarrhoeal disease. In the Philippines, diarrhoeal disease can be classified as common.
“Last year, a portion PhilHealth claims went to acute gastroenteritis - it is actually Php 2 billion,” said DOH Director for Disease Prevention and Control Bureau Dr Mario S. Baquilod.
Acute gastroenteritis, or stomach flu, often result in vomiting and diarrhoea. It is very common among children.
“The updating of the [guidelines] is timely as we pursue [one of the targets] in the SDG, particularly target 6, which aims to achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all by 2030,” Dr Baquilod also noted.
The manual of Operations for the programme will be available soon.
New framework for drinking water
According to the handbook, “drinking water must be clear and does not have objectionable taste, odor and color. It must be pleasant to drink and free from all harmful organisms, chemical substances and radionuclides in amounts which could constitute a hazard to the health of the consumer.”
Drinking water will be tested for their microbiological, physical, chemical and radiologic properties.
Periodic water examination shall be done for all existing water sources while newly-constructed water sources will have initial examination.
Further, all water samples for regulatory purposes shall be examined only in a DOH-accredited laboratory, while examination of water samples for radiologic quality shall be done by the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute.
The new standards shall also be applied to all food establishments, residential, commercial, industrial and institutional buildings that use/supply/serve drinking water; water testing laboratories; health and sanitation authorities; the general public and all others who are involved in determining the safety of public’s drinking water, according to the DOH.
One issue the new handbook expressly wants implented is the setting of emergency parameters for safe drinking water during such times.
In times of emergency, temporary water supply will be distributed by the local government units (LGUs). Likewise, residual chlorine will be monitored for seven days. Further, water must be disinfected as a minimum treatment (boiling and chlorination), and mobile treatment plants can be used as an alternative water source.
Non-compliance with the new guidelines will be punishable according to the Sec. 103 of the Sanitation Code of the Philippines (Presidential Decree No. 856) which states that any person who will violate, disobey, refuse, omit or neglect shall be guilty of misdemeanor and upon conviction will pay a fine of Php 1,000 or face imprisonment of six months.
WHO and UNICEF provided technical and financial assistance to complete the updated standards. Other international partners include USAID, UN Development Programme, The World Bank, GIZ (Germany), and Japan International Cooperation Agency among others. The handbook took two years to complete. MIMS