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Making Baguio a healthy happy urbanized city
by Ofelia Empian

A century ago, Baguio City has been a place of refuge during the hot summer months for early American administrators, soldiers, and teachers.

The city’s cool climate is perfect for these officials escaping the humid Manila during the summer heat thus earning Baguio its name “Summer Capital of the Philippines” in 1903.

“Baguio is an interestingly curious city, with an odd beginning. A mile high, near the clouds, cool, with exhilaratingly fresh air to breathe, you would seek her comfort somehow. And this is exactly what led to her opening up. When America at the turn of the century supplanted the sovereignty of Spain over the archipelago, the early American administrators, soldiers, and teachers had to have a rest station during the hot summer months. So Baguio was found,” wrote Baguio Midland Courier founder Sinai Hamada in this paper, which was reprinted for the 99th charter day of the city.

MASS VACCINATION-- The Department of Health-Cordillera recently launched the mass immunization for kindergarten to grade 7 students against tetanus, diphtheria, and measles, as part of the government’s school-based immunization program. This will ensure that majority of the student population are protected against these diseases that will develop herd immunity, which will also protect the population that were not vaccinated. -- Ofelia C. Empian

Fast forward to now, the city on its 110th foundation day, remains one of the sought after destinations for rest and recreation by many, particularly because of its temperate climate. It has also become a home to many as it progressed to be the top university belt in Northern Luzon as well as industries that preferred to put up shop here, pushing upwards Baguio’s economy and development.

The city, originally designed for 25,000 people, now has more than 400,000 population but does not include the number of tourists and people from neighboring areas who come to the city for work and studies daily.

These led to a barrage of problems for the city government to manage including problems on environmental degradation, peace and order, and health and sanitation, among other concerns.

The current administration under Mayor Benjamin Magalong has acknowledged these concerns when the executive and legislative departments formulated the 15-point agenda of the city government. This includes giving more focus on the health and well being of city residents, especially children.

One of the first marching orders of the mayor is for the massive cleanup in the city’s 128 barangays, starting off with the decommissioned Irisan dumpsite. Major waterways and canals in the city, draining towards the Balili River, were likewise inspected.

From there, business establishments were inspected including those serving foods for them to comply with the city’s health and sanitation code.

Magalong is bent on “cleaning up Baguio,” emphasizing on cleanliness during the inspections of the establishments, which he personally led. Rightfully so, as poor sanitation leads to various diseases.

The World Health Organization stated, “sanitation is a cornerstone of public health.” WHO added that improved sanitation could contribute enormously to human health and well-being.

Food service sanitation

Food establishments lined up at Burnham Park are perhaps the most prominent business in the area. Billows of smoke are often seen in the area early in the morning or at lunchtime, as food workers cook meals especially of the grilled kind. This was the reason the mayor had a talk with these business owners, for them to properly comply with sanitation. He said many of these food businesses have violations on sanitation. To avoid closure, stall owners were directed to properly impose sanitation practices in food handling such as wearing of uniforms, sanitation protective gears as well as not let their stalls encroach the road.

The mayor also warned the owners to stop using charcoal in grilling because it causes air pollution. He advised them to use alternative means to do their grilling that will not adversely affect the city’s air quality. They have three months to comply with the mayor’s directive.

Charles Bryan Carame, sanitary engineer of the City Health Services Office, said the inventory of compliant and erring establishments is ongoing. “About 60 percent are compliant while 40 percent are non-compliant when it comes to sanitation,” he said.

“They were compliant before but when monitored again, some were not able to maintain their sanitation,” he said, adding they usually conduct monitoring twice a year.

But monitoring would be more frequent in the coming days as the crackdown on erring establishments, aside from those serving food, is one of the thrusts of the current administration.

The mayor also issued a memorandum calling on all city departments to strictly implement ordinances under their agencies and to penalize non-compliant businesses.

With this, Carame said his office came up with a measure setting the sanitation standards for commercial establishments operating within the city, which would also penalize erring businesses.

“What we did was to set a standard for food establishment, if they will not be able to meet that, we will penalize them,” Carame said.

He said the basic sanitation standards to be followed are: the presence of sanitary facilities including hand washing facilities, cleanliness in food preparation, proper storage and serving of food and drinks.

He said there will be separate prohibited acts for the owners and employees who violated the ordinance. Citation tickets would also be issued once the ordinance is passed.

City Health Services Office records show that acute bloody diarrhea and acute gastroenteritis are the fourth leading causes of death in the city from 2016 to 2018.

Dr. Donnabel Tubera of the Infectious Disease Cluster of the CHSO said there is no known diarrhea outbreak in the city, but it has always been in the top 10 lists of diseases.

“We eat three times a day that’s why,” she said.

She said the transfer would go from hand-to-mouth and usually feco-oral.

When the disease spreads through the fecal-oral route, it means that another person somehow ingests contaminated feces from an infected person.

Also, it could be with the vectors, especially flies as a means of the transfer of bacteria from dirty surfaces to the food prepared.

SANITATION -- Mayor Benjamin Magalong has directed all city departments to conduct regular monitoring to  ensure that all businesses including food establishments comply with ordinances. Food establishments that lined up Burnham Park were one of the areas inspected by the City Health Services Office together with the mayor, making sure that they comply to sanitation standards. -- Ofelia C. Empian

No known outbreaks for the past years

A classic example of an outbreak that would go down the city’s history for the past two decades would be the meningococcemia in 2005 where the city’s tourism industry suffered the most.

Meningococcemia became a full-blown scare and a damper on city tourism at the start of 2005, threatening even the prestigious Panagbenga Festival.

That year, a total of 98 meningococcemia cases were recorded in the Cordillera – 74 from Baguio City, 22 from Mountain Province and two from Ifugao with 18 deaths in Baguio City and 12 deaths in the other provinces.

But with the help of DOH and a group of physicians from the WHO lending a hand to local doctors, meningococcemia was contained. This then made Baguio a model in combatting the deadly disease.

One of the first cases of the disease was traced to an overcrowded housing facility, which made it easier for the bacteria to transfer from one person to another.

Tubera said there are no known outbreaks of infectious diseases in the city for the past years.

Recently, the CHSO also raised the alarm on leptospirosis, influenza and hand, foot, and mouth disease.

With the case of leptospirosis, the cases are sporadic meaning it does not occur usually in the city unlike in Metro Manila where it is endemic.

There is one recorded death of leptospirosis in the city with a 24-year-old woman and another two patients who underwent dialysis after being infected with the bacteria last July.

Tubera said the victims were not using protective footwear when they were exposed to the heavy rains and may have open wounds where the bacteria entered.

Tubera said not all rats are contaminated with leptospirosis.

“It is very much tied to sanitation, of course, with rats they thrive in dirty surroundings. So if there is garbage, there are rats. So there’s higher chance of vermin-related diseases,” Tubera said.

Another recent case contained by the CHSO is hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD) which recently affected school children.

Three of the 37 pupils in a daycare center acquired HFMD, an infectious disease caused by a group of entero-viruses that led to the 10-day closure of the school. The closure is to give way to the cleanup of the center.

HFMD is characterized by a brief fever in children, rashes, and mouth ulcers. The disease is treatable.

Tubera said proper hand washing and hygiene could avoid HFMD.

Traveling diseases

With Baguio being a tourist city, various people come and go, and also diseases.

“Baguio is a tourist destination and diseases travel too,” said Geeny Anne Austria of DOH-Cordillera. She, however, said that many of the diseases are preventable with vaccines.

The DOH recently launched the massive immunization for school children from kindergarten to grade 7 against tetanus, diphtheria, and measles.

The school-based mass immunization targets to immunize 61,765 pupils in the region, in order to have the “herd immunity.”

Herd immunity is a form of indirect protection from infectious disease that occurs when a large percentage of a population has become immune to an infection, which provides a measure of protection for individuals who are not immune to the disease.

Even adults are encouraged to get vaccinated against flu and pneumonia to boost their immunity against these common illnesses especially during rainy season.

Personal hygiene

Tubera emphasized that personal hygiene is the best defense against any diseases.

She said the WASH, which stands for water, sanitation and hygiene, is one of the programs CHSO implements in the various barangays.

She explained that every individual should have access to water that is free from any contamination, be it bacteriological or chemical.

She added that every household should have its own toilet. She said many of the households in the city have access to toilet but does not have their own toilet in their own homes. This means they could either share a common toilet with other people as with the case of boarding houses, or are sharing toilet with their neighbors.

For hygiene, Tubera said there should be presence of washing facilities, with water and soap in schools, workplaces, and households.

“We should also consider the females, they have a special need when it comes to hygiene for they are going through monthly menstruation. So we have those kinds of programs that we should consider later on,” she said.

FOR HEALTHY BABIES -- 1n 2017, around 42 mothers in Baguio and its environs simultaneously breastfed their infants in support of the World Breastfeeding Month at the Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center. The event aimed to continue drumming up the campaign on breastfeeding as a healthier option to feed infants and even toddlers. -- Ofelia C. Empian

Healthy people, healthy city

Even with these health problems of the city, there’s no doubt the city is still one of the best places to live with its climate.

Thus, each resident is encouraged to take action when it comes to his or her health. Live a healthy lifestyle, go for outdoor exercises and take advantage of the climate that is conducive for exercise, according to health officials.

Baguio is likewise being pegged as a walkable city for years now. The experimental closure of Session Road is one step as well as the pedestrianization of some central business areas. Take for example at Malcolm Square where parking was banned in the area; that small piece of walkable area is enough relief for the public from the busy area.

Few, however, forego walking going towards their destination perhaps due to the pervasive air pollution brought by vehicles in the city.

There is more to be done in the city in order to achieve a healthier community. To encourage people to be healthy, there has to be facilities provided such as free exercise facilities in the parks.

Families need to start or maintain cleanliness within their own homes by having their own hygiene facilities.

It is better to invest in health now than pay for the price of hospitalization due to illness, which most of the time can be prevented.

Baguio still remains as a refuge for many and with the tourists that comes to share the city with the residents; they needed to follow city ordinances as well.

As the new mayor promised change in all aspects in the community, the city is hopeful for the next three years, which could affect the coming years to come. But the community’s response and support is very much need too.
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:: Baguio: Where every piece of land is valuable
:: Chasing Baguio’ dream as ‘Safe and Smart City’
:: Looking forward to a sustainable & responsible tourism for Baguio
:: A dream Baguio public market in the making
:: Realizing initiatives for Baguio City’s grand rehabilitation
:: The need to innovate towards a disaster – resilient Baguio
:: Sustaining Baguio City as educational capital of the north
:: Local governance in the time of social media
:: Baguio to recognize four outstanding citizens for 2019
:: Baguio, as a ‘high–tech’ city, vies for efficient, fast services

Philippine National Police – Police Regional Office – CAR
R.A Gapuz Review Center

Baguio Central University
Baguio Country Club
Benguet Electric Cooperative Inc.
Congressman Mark Go
Data Center of the Philippines of Baguio City, Inc.
Department of Health – CAR
Kings’ College of the Philippines
Mayor Benjamin B. Magalong
Pines City Colleges
Sangguniang Panlungsod
SM City Baguio
Social Security System
Veterans Bank

Albergo Hotel and Residences
Baguio Center Mall
Baguio Water District
C & Triple A Supermart
Congressman Nestor B. Fongwan
Curamed Pharmacy
Department of Agriculture – CAR
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Ganza & Solibao Restaurants
GMS Technology
Governor Melchor D. Diclas
John Hay Management Corporation
Mayor Romeo K. Salda
MMS Development Training Center Corporatino
Mother Earth Deli Basket
Philipppine Science High School
Regional Development Council – CAR


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