Accessibility of Soil-transmitted Helminthiasis Control Strategies in Selected Indigenous People Communities in the Philippines
Background. Indigenous peoples (IPs) remain vulnerable to soil-transmitted helminthiasis (STH) due to limited access to sanitary toilets, clean water, quality health education, and services. The World Health Organization recommends periodic mass drug administration (MDA) of anthelminthics, health education, and improvements in water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) as control strategies to reduce morbidities caused by STH in target populations such as schoolage children (SAC). This paper complements the published results of the parasitological survey (prevalence and intensity of STH) conducted in selected Aeta and Ata-Manobo communities.
Objectives. This study aimed to describe the accessibility of STH control strategies to respond to the needs of SAC in IP communities in Pampanga and Davao del Norte, the Philippines. It likewise intended to describe access of these IP communities to STH control strategies.
Methods. Data on accessibility of and access to STH control strategies were collected using key informant interviews (KIIs) and focus group discussions (FGDs). Eleven officials and workers from the departments of health and education, local government units, and two IP leaders were interviewed on the existing STH burden in SAC, implementation of STH control strategies, particularly of MDA, health education campaigns, and improvements in WASH including good practices and challenges in program implementation. Three FGDs with parents, elementary school teachers of IP schools, and rural health midwives were conducted separately. Guide questions focused on accessibility of and access to STH prevention and control strategies for SAC in IP communities. Informed consent to conduct and record KIIs and FGDs were obtained from participants prior to participation. Analysis of a multi-disciplinary team was based on the accessibility framework for IPs accessing indigenous primary health care services by Davy et al. (2016).
Results. The characteristics of the STH control strategies and the target populations are interrelated factors that influence accessibility. Challenges in the availability of the MDA program, particularly, inadequate staffing, drug shortages, and delays in delivery affect accessibility of and access to the free STH control strategies. Perceived harm, adverse events, stigma, beliefs, and practices likewise affect access. Lack of information on the similarity of treatment through community- and school-based MDA programs also affected engagement of SAC
IP communities are special settings where geographic isolation, peace and order situation as well as water supply need to be considered to help ensure access to STH control strategies, high MDA coverage, and improvements in WASH leading to desired outcomes.
Conclusions. Considering the context of IP communities and addressing the challenges in the accessibility of and access to STH control strategies are necessary to ensure successful implementation of an integrated approach in STH prevention and control strategies. Challenges in the accessibility of STH control strategies are inadequate staffing, poor inventory, and delays in the delivery of drugs, as well as poor sanitation and hygiene. Access of SAC is likewise affected by misconceptions on safety and efficacy of anthelminthics, including stigma and cultural practices. The similarity of the MDA programs based in school or community need to be disseminated.