On Heroes and Healers
I began working with Gawad Kalusugan (GKal), the Health Program of Gawad Kalinga (GK), exactly 34 weeks today. It’s been a tremendously exciting ride since day one, replete with ups and downs- mostly ups, mind you.
Whenever I talk about my work in GKal, I always punctuate it with my realization that this is The Somewhere I’d choose to be in any day of the week and twice on Sundays. Everything that I’ve been doing with GKal has been blessed by the Lord, a constant affirmation of my decision to stay in the Philippines and work with the poorest of the poor until they all- we all- graduate from that state.
Gawad Kalusugan is a response to the challenges of the Philippine health situation. GKal is anchored on the principles of Primary Health Care as espoused in the Declaration of Alma-Ata. The impetus for its immediate implementation is provided for as well by the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals. But over and above all the documents and jargon, what drives the program and the people behind it is this is an extension, a manifestation if you may, of Christ’s mission of healing and salvation. In our own small way, Gawad Kalusugan workers are continuing His mission of looking after the sick and the unwell while as astutely helping them gain ownership of their health- Health in the hands of the people.
Gawad Kalusugan has a three-pronged approach to improving the health of residents in GK sites: capacity enhancement, health service delivery, and health systems development. The work at hand is pretty voluminous so I will try to distill our manual into this entry so the latter will contain what is most essential.
Admittedly, while we are full-time workers in GKal, we are not in the area all the time. Thus, it is important to have an empowered community that can take care of minor health concerns that may strike in the wee hours of the morning.
How do we go about this? We train healthcare volunteers or HCVs to be our partners in health in the GK site. They are residents of the site who are there practically 24/7. We will teach them health skills and information and, alongside, hopefully, develop the accompanying attitude and orientation to make the best use of these skills and know-how. We are not out to make them little doctors. We will equip them with the information on how to manage patients with fever, coughs, cold, diarrhea, first-aid, hypertension, sanitation, among other conditions, how to take vital signs, etc PLUS the all-important aspect of when to refer.
This is truly a very concrete step on the way to bringing health in the hands of the people.
Health service delivery
Cognizant of the myriad problems our healthcare delivery system faces, Gawad Kalusugan has chosen to focus on seven thrusts which are true public health concerns that have burdened society, especially the poor, for so long. These thrusts are known via the acronym TWIN-RPD.
T: Fight TB program.
Despite much success in the fight to wipe out TB in the country, it is still a top killer, claiming the life of 75 Filipinos a day or one Filipino every twenty minutes. Daily. The bittersweet thing about it is that TB drugs for adults are free, available, and effective- yet they are not being utilized maximally. The Fight TB Program complements the anti-tuberculosis program for children and adults of the Department of Health. Using WHO-approved methods, GKal diagnoses and targets children infected with TB and will extend the care to their affected parents with the assistance of the local government. This approach is aimed at addressing the TB problem directly through clear and effective public-private partnerships.
W: Eliminate water-borne diseases.
At least one million Filipinos seek hospital consult and/or admission because of complications due to poor water supply and sanitation. This program aims to decrease the incidence of gastrointestinal and skin diseases through the provision of safe water supply and proper waste disposal systems in GK sites.
I: Complement the government’s immunization program.
The Department of Health aims for all children to have complete immunization by their first birthday. This program seeks to enhance the government’s immunization program by improving the immunization rate among children in GK sites through increased access to timely and appropriate vaccination and booster shots.
N: Promote proper nutrition.
Recent Food and Nutrition Research Institute surveys note that at least one-third of all Filipino children are underweight and/or suffering from Vitamin A, iodine, and iron deficiency. This program aims to promote proper nutrition through adequate training for mothers and supplemental feeding of children. Nutrition experts from various institutions will be giving lectures on how to prepare nutritionally balanced food on a shoestring budget. Children aged 2-6 years old identified to be malnourished will be enrolled in a feeding program where they will be fed nutritious food daily five times a week for six months.
R: Responsible parenthood through natural family planning.
With the current population growing at a rate of 200 Filipinos every minute, couples are educated on the value of having a family, raising them well, and the proven techniques in natural family planning.
P: Universal health insurance through PhilHealth.
Through this program, private partners are encouraged to provide health insurance for an indigent family for one year. The family is then trained to save to continue their insurance for the second and subsequent years. GKal, in coordination with local government units, and PhilHealth will conduct seminars on the value of contributing to a national health insurance system.
D: Dental health promotion.
Dental caries is one of the top ten reasons why children consult doctors. This program aims to advance dental health as an important component of human wellness through regular preventive dental education lectures and dental missions.
Local health systems development
True to the values of bayanihan and sustainability that Gawad Kalinga promotes, Gawad Kalusugan empowers community leaders to manage their health needs through capability enhancement. GKal focuses on training local leaders (neighborhood and government) in health programs and practices that will benefit the whole community such as proper nutrition, sanitation, disease prevention and first aid. The leaders are also partnered with medical schools and associations to provide basic medical and dental services such as free consultation, immunization, minor surgical procedures and nutrition programs. Referral systems are being set up to improve the access and quality of medical care when the need arises.
How can you help?
Like in all aspects of Gawad Kalinga work, Gawad Kalusugan does not discriminate with regard to who can help and what they can do to whichever GK site they want to be involved with. However, we are highly encouraging health professionals and those in their immediate spheres of interest to spearhead and jumpstart the health program of GK.
Help can be as simple as holding clinic in a GK site for two hours once a month. See patients, look at their illnesses, take care of their concerns, give medical advise, dispense medicine. Two hours a month already mean a lot to the residents.
Collect your samples and donate them to GK site clinics.
Or better yet, encourage colleagues and friends in your drug collection drive and/or clinic hours in Gawad Kalinga sites nearest you. The more, the merrier.
Tie-up with GK and GKal people to conduct public health lectures on preventive and curative aspect of diseases and medical conditions. Knowledge is power.
Or if you can’t physically go to a GK site because you are in the United States, let’s put your dollars and cents to good use.
PHP 1,200.00 or US$24.00 is enough to pay for a whole family’s PhilHealth or social insurance premium for one year.
PHP 2,000.00 or US$40.00 can already feed a malnourished child one hot meal a day, five days a week, for 24 weeks.
PHP6,000.00 or US$120.00 can take care of the 6-month anti-TB treatment of a child stricken with tuberculosis.
PHP7,000.00 or US$140 can help finance the 6-month anti-TB treatment of an adult sick with tuberculosis.
PHP100,000.00 or US$2,000.00 can help put in place a water purification facility that ensure clean water supply for 50 families.
PHP240,000.00 or US$4,800.00 can pay for a year’s compensation of a full-time doctor who will oversee the implementation of Gawad Kalusugan programs in a particular GK site or cluster of adjacent GK sites.
For more information, please message me through firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
The list above is but a sample of how anybody and everybody can be a healer and a hero for health. The task of building healthy communities towards building a healthy nation is daunting but not impossible. As we assess our individual as well as collective strength and resources, it becomes very clear that the possibilities for helping the poorest of the poor and being a blessing to them are endless.