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EDITORIAL - An investment in public health

With the government reporting that it is close to achieving near-universal health care coverage, complementary measures must also be undertaken to improve disease prevention.

One of the most basic ways is to increase investments in water and sanitation. Drinking contaminated water can cause a host of diseases, with the treatment to be shouldered by taxpayers. The World Health Organization reports that 500,000 people die worldwide every year due to diarrhea alone. Drinking contaminated water has led to outbreaks of dysentery, typhoid, cholera and polio, according to the WHO.

Certain water-borne diseases such as cholera are supposed to have been eradicated. But the lack of access to clean water and sanitation particularly in impoverished or remote communities has led to the persistence of such diseases. The United Nations has set 2030 as the target for the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals on universal access to safely managed water and sanitation services.

The Philippines will need to invest a lot more on water and sanitation facilities if those development goals are to be achieved. Health experts have said merely washing hands regularly with soap and water can keep away diseases. But millions of Filipinos lack access to safe water and modern sanitation services even in Metro Manila, with some public schools lacking piped water for hand washing and flushing toilets.

There are concerns even over the quality of water piped into homes nationwide. Most households have portable filters for drinking water. The bottled water industry is doing brisk business in this country. But such precautions to ensure the safety of drinking water are beyond the reach of millions of households, most of which also lack proper sanitation facilities.

Such lack has led to numerous diseases, with children among the most vulnerable. With universal health coverage, the government will be shouldering the treatment of such afflictions.

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The better way to spend people’s money is to invest in facilities that prevent diseases and promote public health. Providing universal access to safe water, the most basic need, as well as modern sanitation facilities would mean a healthier population and immense savings in health care costs.

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