MANILA, April 14, 2011 (AFP) – An outbreak of cholera has killed 19 members of a remote cave-dwelling Philippine tribe and sickened more than 400 others, the government said Thursday.
Poor hygiene and the isolation of the Palawanon tribe had made treatment of the disease difficult with doctors initially making a wrong diagnosis of diarrhoea, the health department said.
The government agency dispatched a medical team to the island of Palawan last week to check the outbreak and concluded cholera was to blame, said Manuel Mapue, the head of the mission.
“The whole area has no potable water system and there are no toilets. Being indigenous tribes, these people just defecate anywhere,” he told AFP.
He said samples from the rivers used by the tribe for drinking water showed they were contaminated with faeces.
Previous news reports said as many as 30 people had died of the illness but a check found only 19 fatalities, said Mapue.
The isolation of the tribe, with no hospital in the area, had made it difficult to treat them, he added.
“We had to walk for two to three hours, cross streams and shallow rivers and climb mountains which were a bit rough with a lot of bushes to reach them,” told AFP.
Families were being given special water containers with filters and local leaders were being taught to dig and use latrines, Mapue said.
Chief government epidemiologist Eric Tayag said the tribesmen would have to be taught how to prevent cholera.
“We have to teach them sanitation and we have to make sure that those who are getting sick will be identified immediately,” Tayag said on local television.
Anthropologists say about 30,000 people speak several dialects associated with the Palawanon tribe, whose members live in isolated communities scattered in the interiors of Palawan.