Sunday, September 12, 2010

Let Us S/Pray

They put on a local radio talk show last week a man I know since I was a child. An interview made me reminiscent on my childhood days and my grandfather’s memory came to mind. It’s September 12 and the world celebrates the Grandparents'Day today. The old man worked with my granddad at the Bureau of Health’s Malaria Control Unit here in San Jose in the early ‘50s. The interviewee, Mr.Gaudioso Ordanel, also known as “Lolo Gudio”, is now more than 80 years of age but still puffing cigarette and swigging gin. My Papang was the medical technologist while Mang Gudio is the driver-team leader of the Malaria control spray men.

As early as 1906, the Philippine Bureau of Health established its Malaria Control Division which is tasked to conduct researches and study, history and epidemiology of malaria in the Philippines including control practices such as annual spraying of all houses in areas affected by malaria. Malaria is a protozoan disease and the word “malaria” means “bad air” in Italian, reflecting an old view and misconception that malaria is caused by gases from swampy regions where the anopheles mosquito, the carrier, usually dwell.

Even before the war, my late grandfather was sent by the government here in Occidental Mindoro from far-away Bulacan (he was from Tolosa, Leyte and my lola was a Bulakenya) to be part of the malarial control team composed of doctors, paramedics and health workers. They were stationed at the San Jose Sugar Central but most of the time, they go to remote areas including sugarcane plantations believed to be infested by malaria and breeding place for the dreaded mosquito. According to Papang’s account then, hundreds and thousand of employees and sacadas (sugar cane workers) suffered and died from the disease. No less than ten people die everyday because of malaria and other related diseases including cholera.

The old folks that I met today could still recognize my grandfather for they helped them in treating the disease. I was just a kid then but how I really wished to have written his biography or extensively made a journal on other interesting stories and experiences of his life. I never had a chance. But to tell you, the Novio clan - in this sense - spreaded in Occidental Mindoro because of malaria-carrying mosquitos!

On the other hand my Mamang was a typical Filipina wife. Good at cooking, at times strict but loving and very prayerful. A very religious woman of physical strength.

I just presumed that Papang joined the Six-Year (1953-1958) Philippine-American Program for Malaria Control in the Philippines. Aside from giving anti-malaria drugs as supplementary relief measure, they sprayed practically every houses, from San Jose to Rizal, for at least 3 consecutive years and thereafter another spot-spraying of houses as conditions demand. They use dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane or DDT. DDT is a potent insecticide rediscovered in 1939 by Paul Muller of Switzerland but it was banned in the United States in 1972. The Philippines have completely banned DDT in 1994.

In 1962, biologist Rachel Carson wrote a report called “Silent Spring” citing studies of bad effects of DDT specially on the reproductive processes of birds. This became a breakthrough in alleged DDT hazardous effect. A series of studies then followed and experts even alleged that DDT residue affects humans through the food chain. DDT like any other product of the chemical industry and the so-called corporate science, is owned by big chemical corporations and capitalists world-wide. Today, very strong scientific evidences of various kinds of harm to humans and other living organisms caused by DDT use gained its highest momentum.

Papang taught me this : Malaria, not unlike other communicable disease, can be traced or rooted from various factors. It is a disease closely linked with poverty and underdevelopment. And the mosquito only take the supporting (or is it character?) role. On the other hand, it is poverty who take the lead role. Poverty in the form of inadequate or faulty surveillance and treatment strategies, faulty data gathering and analyses, lack of medical facilities, medicines, among others. Of course not to be counted out are other factors like improving our socio-economic conditions, environmental protection and the likes. Does he sounded like a politician? As I have told you before in this post, my grand old man introduced me to political stories, issues and concerns of his time.

And my grandparents luckily "infected" their children and grandchildren with these beautiful traits and advices : to pray and spray the good seed of service to others …

(Photo from

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