FIGHTING SCHISTO. Some of the praziquantel tablets from the Department of Health. The national government has allocated 2.47 million praziquantel tablets for Eastern Visayas to combat schistosomiasis, a disease endemic in the region. (Photo courtesy of Burauen, Leyte rural health unit)

TACLOBAN CITY - The national government has allocated at least 2.47 million praziquantel tablets for Eastern Visayas to combat schistosomiasis, a disease endemic in the region.

Agnes Cuayzon, DOH regional schistosomiasis program manager, said there was no supply of the medicine for months last year but is now available in several local government units of the region.

"We have already delivered these tablets to several local government units to administer this drug. Our call to residents in endemic communities is to avail this medicine to avoid complications due to schistosomiasis," Cuayzon said in an interview Wednesday.

The Department of Health defines schistosomiasis as an acute and chronic disease caused by parasitic worms called trematodes or blood flukes. It is endemic in the Philippines affecting 1,599 barangays in 189 municipalities and 15 cities, 28 endemic provinces, and in 12 regions.

In Eastern Visayas, the disease, which is also known as snail fever, is endemic in 897 villages in 63 towns and cities.

The official admitted that fighting the disease was not prioritized between 2020 and 2022 since local government resources were focused on battling the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic.

The affected villages in Eastern Visayas are hosts to 1,718 freshwater snail colonies based on the 2015 survey.

Nearly one million people in the region remained exposed to chronic parasitic disease.

People become infected with schistosomiasis when larval forms of the parasite, released by freshwater snails, penetrate the skin during contact with infested water.

“An area is considered endemic and people are susceptible if there is the presence of indigenous cases and infected snails,” Cuayzon explained.

In the national listings, four of the region’s six provinces are categorized as high endemic areas -- 338,842 are in Leyte; 113,175 in Samar; 206,043 in Eastern Samar; and 220,717 in Northern Samar.

“The focus is the massive treatment of persons under the age bracket of 5 to 65 years old to protect them from the severe consequences of schistosomiasis. We have been reducing disease through periodic, large-scale population treatment,” she added.

The target is to cover at least 85 percent of the exposed population every year in mass drug treatment.

The most common symptoms of the disease are abdominal pain, diarrhea, bloody stool, and liver enlargement.

Transmission occurs when people suffering from schistosomiasis contaminate freshwater sources with their feces containing parasite eggs, which hatch in the water.

The first epidemic of schistosomiasis in the region occurred among Americans and allied forces after landing in Leyte during World War II in 1944. (PNA)