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USAID Teaches Filipino Kids How to Prevent Three Diseases
June 10, 2013

Children in a remote village east of Manila, the Philippines, attend the opening of classes for the 2013-2014 school year. USAID is helping Filipino teachers educate kids about disease prevention.

June 7, 2013

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is taking the battle against neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) into classrooms across the Philippines.

In 2012, the agency helped revise school health kits that teachers use to educate students on how to avoid exposure to the three most prevalent NTD infections — soil transmitted helminths (intestinal worms), schistosomiasis (snail fever) and lymphatic filariasis (elephantitis) — which are endemic across much of the Philippines. More than 50 million are at risk, including most of the country’s children.

Because of the Philippines’ challenging political geography — more than 92 million people live across more than 7,000 islands, some of which have areas of armed conflict — major advances toward the elimination of NTDs have been an uncertain endeavor, and potentially expensive.

One extremely effective way to reach children, who are the most vulnerable to long-term mental and physical impairment from these diseases, is through the national school system. Even if these kids live in hard-to-reach areas, most go to school every day.

More than 775 schools across the country are now better prepared to teach children about how worm infections are spread, what symptoms children may have and ways to prevent exposure such as proper hand washing, using toilets properly and taking deworming tablets regularly. The teachers engage children in storytelling and role-playing so they can better understand and act on the lessons they learn.

“The new school health materials for NTDs are a really important contribution,” says Loida Ramos, supervisory health program officer at the Department of Education. “They are simple, clear, easy to understand and quite colorful. They have been designed to be easily understood by both the teachers and the students, and do not require any additional — and costly — training in their use. We are already hearing about the excitement these materials are causing in schools across the country.”

USAID’s work to bring treatment and prevention to Filipino schools is part of the regionwide End Neglected Tropical Diseases (END) in Asia Project. The agency’s support of $1 million per year is helping to strengthen communication materials, build local capacity, improve coordination and planning, and expand advocacy to both public and private partners, especially in those isolated and impoverished areas.