Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Health disaster group: All is not yet well -- epidemic may soon take over affected communities; call for comprehensive rehabilitation plan

(Philippines) – In its press conference today, disaster health group Samahang Operasyong Sagip (SOS) criticized the government anew for its inefficiency and inept leadership in responding to Yolanda’s backwash after seeing for themselves the concrete situation of the super typhoon aftermath and its survivors.

Returning from a five-day medical and relief missions in Western and Eastern Samar, the 40-staff team of SOS volunteers reported that massive economic dislocation is experienced in the fourteen (14) barangays of Hernani and Gen. McArthur of Easter Samar and Basey of Western Samar.

Rosalinda C. Tablang, president of SOS said that the main sources of livelihood were gone. The strong floods swept away or destroyed fishing boats, felled coconut trees, and submerged crops.

The people are left with nothing. It’s been nineteen (19) days since the disaster and the survivors see no light at the end of the tunnel.

Based on stories from some barangay officials, Tablang said it is “not clear” what the local and national government is planning for the rehabilitation of communities. “As to how long the makeshift tents in Brgy. Batang in Hernani Eastern Samar will stand to provide shelter to the survivors, nobody knows. No serious government aid or rehabilitation plan is apparent,” Tablang lamented.

Meanwhile, SOS convenor and medical doctor Darby Santiago warned that another surge of disaster might hit the distraught villages. “Because of poor sanitation, lack of clean water sources, and absence of latrines, cholera epidemic may soon take over the affected families if immediate health intervention is further delayed,” Santiago shared.

He said that the people’s battle to survive is not yet over. Epidemics could soon arise if government health authorities do not act soon.

The SOS medical team was composed of nine (9) medical doctors with different specializations, fifteen (15) nurses, two (2) medical interns, and four (4) health workers. They served more than 1,000 patients. The people’s medical conditions ranged from upper respiratory tract infections, hypertension, arthritis, error of refraction, suspected primary tuberculosis, diarrhea, musculo-skeletal pain, and urinary tract infections. Some obstetric cases were also seen by the OB Gyn doctor of the group.

SOS also slammed the Department of Social Work and Development’s (DSWD) pronouncement to end the food relief provision in December and implement the “cash-for-work” and “food-for-work” program for the survivors of typhoon Yolanda. Tablang cited an interview aired by a news program to a woman who said she is taking part in the DSWD repacking of relief goods in a DSWD managed warehouse because she hopes to take home 6 kilos of rice given to volunteers like her. The woman said she needed the rice to feed her family because they only received a relief pack once since the typhoon hit.

Despite millions of donated cash and goods to the affected populations, skewed government policies make it more difficult for the survivors to receive immediate relief. Amidst the people’s loss and empty stomachs, the government should provide livelihood and house reconstruction support instead of making people work for donated goods,” said Tablang.

Tablang and Santiago reiterated that at the end of the day, “the survival of the affected population and rehabilitation of communities is the government’s call.

They called on the Filipino people, as well as health professionals, to share their resources and lend their talent and time to the affected families.

Likewise, SOS demands the government to immediately and decisively (1) continue food and relief distribution; (2) act on rebuilding the lives and livelihood of the affected population; (3) address the immediate health problems and concerns of the affected families; (4) institute and implement a comprehensive disaster risk reduction program geared at building the capacities of communities in preparing and responding to disasters; (5) increase the budget for disaster risk reduction.##

Fact Sheet: Medical-Relief Mission
November 20-25, 2013

  • Medical Mission – 1,088 beneficiaries from 5 barangays in the municipality of Hernani and 3 barangays in Municipality of General MacArthur in Eastern Samar province; 6 barangays in Basey, Western Samar.
  • Relief Distribution operation – 1,664 families from 14 barangays in municipalities of General MacArthur, Hernani, Basey.
  • The areas covered are mostly far-flung barangays outside the town centers who have received few or no relief / assistance.

Team composition:
3 medical mission teams and 2 relief distribution teams, from a 40-man team with 10 doctors, 16 nurses, 2 medical interns and health workers and volunteers.
General Observations & Findings:
  1. Many barangays especially those far from town centers have received few or no relief assistance from any group, whether government or private. One example is Barangay Cacatmonan in the municipality of Hernani, where the typhoon destroyed all but 1 out of 35 houses. The barangay captain and several counselors, carrying a list of survivors in the barangay, requested that their barangay be given relief goods.
    Other survivors lament that only those with high numbers of casualties are prioritized so that their barangays are not given or seldom included as beneficiaries.
  2. Some cadavers and debris are still not retrieved and cleared in the barangays.
  3. The survivors are living in most vulnerable conditions:
    1. Some are staying in evacuation center in public schools (some barangays in Basey), some in tents made from tarpaulins.
    2. Lack of electricity make night time pitch black and movement in the areas difficult and dangerous.
    3. Survivors have difficulty cooking food in tin cans using firewood from debris.
  4. Major health risks which could lead to serious disease outbreaks were noted:
    1. Lack of water supply.
    2. Lack of toilet facilities.
    3. Lack of shelter.
    4. Irregular provision of food.
    5. Crowded condition in evacuation areas.
  5. Common illnesses include: upper respiratory tract infections, hypertension, arthritis, error of refraction, diarrhea, wound and injuries, skin diseases.
  6. Other needs: people verbalized need to reconstruct their houses and desire to start livelihood activities. The people lined-up for construction materials such as nails, saw, hammers.
  1. Systematic way to reach out to far-flung areas and provide urgently-needed relief and assistance.
  2. Immediate retrieval of cadavers and clearing of debris, both for faster relief efforts and health and psychological recovery of survivors.
  3. Immediate and comprehensive health interventions to address potential sources of outbreaks and epidemics. These include immediate clearing of debris, provision of water source, construction of shelter, construction or provision of latrines, provision/assistance in food production. Medical teams and service groups must reach far-flung areas not only those in town centers.
  4. Start reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts: provision of construction materials, livelihood, food production, and economic activities.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

SOS volunteers to conduct medical and relief mission in Eastern Samar

When Samahang Operasyong Sagip (SOS) signaled the alarm to help the people of Samar, scores of volunteers from different fields enlisted to take their part in the national and international effort to aid the survivors of Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan).

Basing from reports that some towns in Eastern and Western Samar are still unreached by government aid as of this writing, the SOS, in coordination with its partners in Samar Island, identified three (3) areas to bring immediate relief and medical aid: General McArthur and Hernani in Eastern Samar and, Basey in Western Samar. SOS teams will be leaving for Samar on November 20 and stay on until the 25th.

Despite the propensity of damage and loss to lives, adequate government aid has not reached the peoples of these three towns,” said Rosalinda C. Tablang, president of SOS. She added that inefficiency and bureaucratic processes has “gotten in the way of delivering food and medicines that are urgently needed” in these towns among others.

Tablang shared that their medical and relief delivery teams plan to distribute relief packs and conduct medical and minor surgery services among the affected families and individuals in said towns. They hope to bring relief and medical aid to more than 1,500 families there.

The medical team is composed of 10 medical doctors from different specialties, registered nurses, and health workers. The relief delivery team on the other hand is composed of volunteers from Manila, representatives of health NGOs and a journalist and private group Samahan ng mga Litratista sa Rizal (SLR Camera Club). Medico International, a German-based NGO will also be joining the relief and medical mission.

SOS, established in 1990 as a response to the effects of the Mt. Pinatubo eruption, said that the mission will only be the first among several efforts that they will do to help the people of Samar.

With this initial visit, we also hope to draw up the master plan for the rehabilitation of the said communities in the months to come. Much will be based on the initial assessment from the ground,” Tablang said.

What SOS and its volunteers do is to bring aid to the people from the people which will help them carry on with what is left. However, apart from bringing aid, the task of rebuilding communities anew lies in the hand of the state because it is their primary responsibility and they have all the resources to realize the rebuilding program. But this requires resolve and political will. Unfortunately, the government lacks that,” Tablang ended.


Rosalinda C. Tablang
- 0927-9259413 | (+632)929-8109

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

CBHPs forego anniversary celebration, re-courses efforts to Typhoon Yolanda victims

In the light of the massive destruction and scores of lives lost in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan), the Community Based Health Program, through its national organization Council for Health and Development (CHD), is foregoing the celebration of its 40th anniversary on November 12-14, 2013 at the UP College of Medicine, University of the Philippines Manila.

In lieu of the festivities originally lined up for the CBHP@40 Fair and the scheduled 4th National Colloquium for Community Health Practitioners and Advocates, the CHD is re-coursing its efforts in generating all-out efforts to help the survivors and affected families of ST Yolanda. Resources gathered from friends and sponsors to the CBHP@40 Fair shall likewise be re-coursed to the relief efforts to be made for ST Yolanda victims.

ST Yolanda, equivalent to a category five hurricane, made landfall before dawn of November 8 bringing gusts that reached 379 kph (235 mph), waves as high as 15 m (45 ft), and up to 400 mm (15.75 inches) of rain in several places.

As of press time, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) reports 255 individuals were reported dead (Red Cross count is 1,200 as of November 10), 71 injured and 38 still missing. A total of 2,095,262 families or 9,679,059 persons were affected in 7,251 barangays in 471 municipalities and 51 cities in 41 provinces of Regions IV-A, IV-B, V, VI, VII, VIII, X, XI, and CARAGA. Out of the total population affected, 101,762 families or 477,735 persons were displaced.

Flood waters are still reported to be 10 feet high brought about by storm surge in Tacloban City and Palo City in Leyte, Visayas. Tacloban City Mayor Alfred Romualdez said that it is possible that the death toll could reach 10,000 people. ST Yolanda raged across Leyte and Samar and turned roads into rivers. The local government unit of Samar reported 370 dead and 2,000 missing in their province alone as of November 10. Cebu also had its share of destruction; it is the second largest city with a population of 2.5 million.

CHD together with Samahan Operasyong Sagip (SOS) is appealing for donations and volunteers to the affected populations of ST Yolanda. Relief delivery is the immediate response to extend aid to all survivors in the Visayas. Donations in cash or in kind (preferably food items that are not easily perishable, medicines, first aid materials, sleeping mats/plastic, toiletries, etc.) may be coursed to:

For cash donations, please send it through:

Account name: Samahang Operasyong Sagip, Inc.
Metro Bank
Savings Account # 636-3-63608747-6
Swift Code: MBTCPHMM
Metrobank-Examiner Quezon Avenue Branch,
1517 Ave Maria Bldg, Quezon City, Philippines

Donations in-kind may be brought to:
Council for Health and Development
#8 Mines Street, Brgy. Vasra, Visayas Avenue
Quezon City, Philippines

Volunteers may contact:
(+632)929-8109 or 921-0586 / /

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Strength of the Nation Hinges on the Health of the Community

CBHPs (Community Based Health Programs): Celebrating 40 Years of Serving the People. - If good governance starts local, then meaningful public health service must be communal.

I have been in the health profession for about 17 years now, a short period of time compared to my professors in the university and colleagues who’ve been in community medicine for ages, but throughout that short period of time, I saw how the Philippine health situation ironically deteriorated through the years despite the breakthroughs in medical science and technology.

One defective health policy after another (e.g. privatization, deregulation, decentralization) negated whatever gains we harvested from all-out efforts of concerned community doctors and public health professionals. This resulted in health care becoming more inaccessible to the majority as one administration after another (post-Marcos era) failed to address the health needs of the population.

Although the future may seem bleak, there is a silver lining to all these. Unknown to many of us who live in the fast-paced life of the cities, there exist ordinary people, health professionals, nurses, midwives, hospital workers, and doctors who continue to band together and work for the change that we all desire for our children. They don’t need awards or recognition for doing what they do. They just do their work with only the people’s welfare in mind. They are the unsung heroes.

Flash back to 1973

The gravity of the health situation correlated with the economic, political, and cultural panorama in the country. The raging economic crisis and political turmoil resulted in an all-time high poverty index and widespread neglect of basic social services.

Taking inspiration from the concept and practice of the “barefoot doctors of China,” nuns Sr. Xavier Marie Bual SPC (+), Sr. Eva Varon MSM (+), and Sr. Mary Grenough, MM turned the tables when they pioneered community-based approach to health care or what came to be known as Community Based Health Program.

In its core, CBHPs view that health problems should be seen in context of Philippine society. CBHP is not the answer to all the problems but serve as a means to initiate social transformation.

CBHPs also believe that organizing is the key and the backbone to its continuing existence and growth. For CBHPs to succeed there must be recognition that health problems need to be solved through people’s participation and organization.

Through their organizations, the people can articulate their problems and needs; collectively analyze them, and jointly work towards their resolution. Solid organizing, on the other hand, ensures the active participation of community members in the economic, political, and social aspects of development.

Rooted in communities, CBHPs aspire for a health care that is nationalist, relevant, accessible, and responsive to the needs of the people.

Countryside revolution: Empowering the people.

From a handful of community health workers who initially trained in the different Diocese in Ilagan (Isabela), Palo (Tacloban), and Iligan (Lanao del Norte), there are now more than 10,000 CHWs serving their communities in most of the major provinces. CHWs have become an integral part of their communities, providing basic health services with emphasis on self-reliance and disease prevention.

One such volunteer is Virginia Serendo of Barangay Bug-ang, Toboso, Negros Occidental. Around six to 10 patients visit her house every day.

The funny thing is that she is not a barangay leader or a fortune-teller. Neighbors and other folks coming from the far sitios of their village frequent her home for health advice and treatment.

Serendo is one of the CHWs trained by a CBHP in Negros in 2009. After finishing the three-level Basic Health Skills Training course, she has learned to diagnose simple diseases, prepare herbal medicines, and administer acupuncture and acupressure. She was able to apply what she learned by providing health care services to community members.

Her health knowledge and skills have earned her the trust and confidence of the community members. They seek her for health advice and for various health treatments, but say she and her fellow CHWs never hesitate to refer patients to the hospital or clinic if the medical condition of a patient is beyond their capacity.

“Our skills will never compensate for a doctor’s, but in places where most of our villagers have died without seeing a doctor, the diagnostic skills we have learned through various trainings have helped decrease the feeling of helplessness during times of crisis,” Serendo said.

Community members are so confident of her skills in preparing herbal medicine, particularly lagundi that they pool some amount and request Serendo to produce herbal medicines in bulk for the need of the community.

Health mass movement

In the face of a disorganized Philippine health system that urban-centered and focused in tertiary care, the practice of community-managed health programs made significant contributions not only in terms of improving the community’s health but in awakening and mobilizing the people to deal with the root causes of poverty-related sickness.

The CBHP helped transform thousands of trained and dedicated community health workers into organized community health committees and teams that take care not only of the community members’ health, but also lead a continuing campaign to uphold the people’s right to health.

They continue to lobby the government to address the health needs of the people – on whom sovereignty resides and from whom all government authority emanates as stated in our Constitution.

This specific duty is covered in the so-called “general welfare clause” of the basic law of the land,. Aside from guaranteeing the people’s the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, the Charter calls on the State to “promote the general welfare” of all.

Thus, today, in the midst of a raging controversy involving the pocketing of more than P10 billion of taxpayers’ money, it is only right that we demand from President Aquino that these funds be allotted to social services that would directly benefit the people.

The President must try his very best to emulate these CHWs or at the very least reciprocate their heroism with an act of selflessness and nationalism on his part.

Celebrating 40 years of serving the people

On November 12-14, we will be celebrating the 40th anniversary of CBHP in the Philippines with the theme “Apatnapung Taon ng Puspusang Pakikibaka at Paglilingkod sa Sambayanan”.

A fair would be held on November 12 to 14 at the UP Manila College of Medicine grounds, coordinated by the national secretariat, the Council for Health and Development and the office of Dean Agnes Mejia.

Other commemorative activities and attractions include exhibits, interactive booths, acupuncture demonstration, herbal preparation, and sharing of experiences with CHWs from different CBHPs in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.

Meanwhile, the 4th National Colloquium of Community Health Practitioners and Advocates titled “KKK: Kalusugan, Kabuluhan, Kabayanihan” would be held simultaneously on November 13-14 at the Buenafe Hall, UP College of Medicine, Manila.

- Dr. Darby Santiago
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