Basic toilet facilities should be a must-have for every Filipino household, much like a mobile phone.

Health Secretary Dr. Francisco Duque III stressed the importance of having a basic toilet facility to achieve universal health, during the World Toilet Day celebration at the Department of Health (DOH) central office in Manila, on Monday (27 November 2017).

“We have more Filipinos with mobile phones than those with a functional toilet,” Duque said, citing data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA). Based on official demographic data, 84 percent of households own a mobile phone while only 75 percent have improved toilet facilities that are not shared with other households in 2013.

According to the Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), approximately six million Filipinos still practice open defecation, mostly in rural areas, as of 2015.

“When people living in our communities defecate in the open, in fields and waterways, our children will more likely experience frequent bouts of diarrhea, have worm infections, and grow up stunted and undernourished,” said UNICEF country representative Lotta Sylwander.

Eliminating open defecation by 2022 is one of the goals of the Philippine Health Agenda. “But giving away toilets alone will not solve our problem,” said Duque.
To address this, the DOH is implementing the Zero Open Defecation Program (ZODP). The ZODP utilizes the approaches and strategies of Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS). CLTS is under the umbrella concept of total sanitation that includes a range of behaviours such as stopping open defecation practices; ensuring that everyone uses a sanitary toilet, wash hands properly, handles food and water in a hygienic manner; and disposes animal and domestic waste safely to create a clean and safe environment.

“Households and communities need to be aware and prepared. They should also be accountable. When our governors and mayors give toilets for free, they should only do so after households have demonstrated that they are willing to invest their time and resources in building and maintaining their own toilet facilities.”

According to DOH, eradicating open defecation and setting up the safe management of sanitation requires a shift in the use of approaches. This shift will include collective behavior change, strong supply chains and improved public services. Across these steps is a need for public regulation of behavior compliance, improvement of infrastructure and services of individuals, collectives and corporations.

“It’s the same when we buy our own celfones. We take care of it because the money we used to buy it came from our own pockets. That should also be the case for our toilets.”

DOH is working with other government agencies, local government units, non-government organizations and the private sector to promote its Zero Open Defecation (ZOD) Program. In selected rural communities, DOH has launched a communication campaign, called “Goodbye, Dumi! Hello, Healthy!” to convince household heads to build their own sanitary toilets.

First implemented in the Province of Masbate in 2014, the campaign will now be rolled out in all regions in 2018. The campaign is composed of different communication platforms, including a community play, health classes, and engaging information materials for children and adults.

In communities where the campaign was first implemented, toilet coverage increased from 58 to 85 percent on average in a six-month period in 2016, according to UNICEF.

“Sanitation may not be a sexy or pleasant theme for conversation but it should be talked about. The campaign, ‘Goodbye, Dumi! Hello, Healthy!’ gives people the opportunity to talk about sanitation and toilets without embarrassment or shame,” said Sylwander.

The campaign was cited by the Public Relations Society of the Philippines (PRSP) as one of the country’s top communication programs at the 52nd Anvil Awards early this year.

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