Residents in riverside communities in Mandaue City worried over polio-contaminated Butuanon River
MANDAUE CITY, Philippines –What was once a river teeming with life, Josephine Tamayo watched how Butuanon River–which is just on their backyard–became the very thing her children should now avoid.
“Before I had kids of my own, I remembered how the children would go down the river to fish for freshwater shrimps (locally known as pansat) and other fishes found there. Now, I can’t even begin to describe its smell and color,” Josephine said in Cebuano.
Josephine and her four children, ages 16, 14, 13, and 11, have been living in Sitio Carrots in Barangay Paknaan in Mandaue City since 2003. Their house sits on an elevated portion a few meters beside the Butuanon River.
Since news that the river was confirmed to have been contaminated with poliovirus, the 46-year-old mother said she will be stricter when it comes to her children’s playtime.
This even if all of her children completed their inoculation against polio, a highly contagious disease caused by poliovirus that attacks the nervous system.
“My children loved playing on the street, especially with the neighboring kids. But after learning that there’s poliovirus in the river, I told them to stay away from the river, and go straight home after school otherwise there will be punishment,” she said.
On February 15, the Department of Health (DOH) confirmed findings from the Research Institute of Tropical Medicine (RITM) that Butuanon River, the largest river in Mandaue City in terms of volume being spilled into the sea, is contaminated with poliovirus.
READ: Butuanon River in Mandaue tested positive for poliovirus – DOH
As a result, Mandaue City Mayor Jonas Cortes closed it and two other major waterways in the city – Mahiga and Tipolo Creeks – from the public to prevent possible contamination.
Butuanon River spans more than 10 kilometers, starting from the mountain barangays of Cebu City, before spilling to Mactan Channel. Downstream, it traverses through several villages of Mandaue City, including Barangay Paknaan.
READ: Tipolo, Butuanon, and Mahiga Rivers off-limits to public
Person-to-person transmission of polio is possible through the fecal-oral route, or through a contaminated vehicle which can be food or water.
DOH also confirmed the 17th case of polio – a 1-year-old boy from Cabanatuan City in Nueva Ecija – since the disease reemerged in September 2019.
Several residents in Sitio Carrots in Barangay Paknaan, however, rely only on makeshift wells located just a few meters away from Butuanon River as their own water supply.
But Larra Gitgit would not take her chances of getting water from an unknown source.
A resident in Sitio Carrots in Barangay Paknaan for more than 20 years, Larra, a 37-year-old sales lady, said she had to apply for a loan so she can afford on installing a running water supply in their house.
“I have two daughters and I won’t gamble on a free water supply after I saw them myself – it’s yellowish in color with a pungent smell coming from it,” Larra said in Cebuano.
Like Josephine, Larra said her 16-year-old and 5-year-old daughters are vaccinated against polio.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said children below five years old are at risk of contracting the deadly disease, which can lead to paralysis. This is why the Mandaue City Government is also now ramping up its vaccination program.
A coordination meeting between the city governments of Cebu and Mandaue will take place Monday, February 17, 2020, to address this particular concern. /bmjo
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