Thursday, December 6, 2007

Leaders for Health Program

“Stories of town mayors giving out medicines, from paracetamol to penicillin, are not unusual because these can get votes. On the other hand, municipal doctors complain about not having enough funds to buy common drugs and gasoline for the ambulance in emergencies. Community members largely stay on the sidelines, rarely participating in the arenas of local governance.”

This is the scenario that is common especially in far-flung places. This is the situation that the Leaders for Health Program (LHP) wants to address and change “by making health part of the governance process wherein there is transparency, efficiency and civic participation.”

Situations like the one that broke into the news recently, the one about the outbreak of parasite infection or capillariasis in Zamboanga del Norte. Reports said at least 70 had already died in the village of Moyo in Zamboanga del Norte leaving families orphaned. More than 300 villagers had been infected and suffered chronic diarrhea and dehydration.

The poor villagers had been eating river fish and shrimps that had the capillariasis worm because there was little else. And when struck by the disease, they could not afford the medicines. Worse, there was not enough medicine. No tests had been done so the mortality was simply attributed to chronic diarrhea. But what caused the diarrhea?

I don’t know if the doctor was quoted right, but she simply blamed the villagers because “they don’t know how to defecate…they die because they could not even follow simple instructions.”

What a malodorous statement, what a lethal situation.

The Ateneo de Manila University’s Professional Schools is offering the Leaders for Health program not only for doctors but for local officials and community workers as well. Through the “tri-leaders” strategy, the program aims to enhance governance skills in municipalities.

You just don’t send down a doctor brimming with idealism then expect him or her to do wonders in a remote area. With LHP training this doctor could become a leader and help in the transformation of communities.

The four-year LHP course does not mean the doctor will be away from the community that long. The program, in fact, entails that the doctor serve for four years in the community while at the same time study for a Masters in Community Health Care Management. The two-year academic component is spread out in modules. The doctor would have to attend the modules at the Rockwell campus. In the case of modules for mayors or community workers, professors and mentors are sometimes flown to places where the trainees are gathered for the academic and theoretical components.

The classroom component enables the health workers to reflect on the realties, learn theories and make plans of action that would improve the health delivery system in their areas.

The mayor would have to be a student again and enrol in a certificate course in Community Health Management. A series of short-term modules would not only help get funds for the town’s health programs, the modules would also help the mayor work with the doctor and improve local governance.

How many elected local executives could say they were ready for the job of governance? For many, it was a hit-and-miss thing, an on-the-job training. LHP provides focus so that time and effort are not wasted for learning and unlearning.

Community leaders are the third leg of the stool. They are the bridge between the doctors, the mayors and the people. They are enrolled in a certificate course that would help them participate in health planning.

LHP is not just a program that sends doctors to remote, forgotten towns. It has evolved into a school without walls, training doctors, politicians and community leaders “to change the way people think, behave and feel about health and their well-being.”

Ateneo is not alone in this. It has learned from the Doctors to the Barrios program, it is supported by the Department of Health’s Center for Health and Development as well as by corporations that allocate funds. The LHP also counts on individuals to give through the P60-campaign. There is the Adopt-a-Municipality Program that would provide scholarships for mayors, doctors and community leaders. (Email for more information.)

Ateneo has published a booklet that has heart-warming stories on the LHP experiences which are backed up by solid data on communities served. These are on-the-ground stories about individuals and communities, the problems encountered, the solutions found, the partnerships formed.

These are stories of hope and transformation. There should be more of these.

“Don’t’ abandon us!” The Sumilao farmers who walked 1,700 kilometers from Bukidnon to Manila, braved heat and rain, suffered hunger and fatigue are crying out to the government to heed their plea for justice.

I hope agrarian reform secretary Nasser Pangandaman, who flew to Bukidnon to see for himself the contested 144-hectare land that the Sumilao farmers are supposed to have won, would realize why the farmers have gone this far. The certificates of land ownership award (CLOA) of the farmer-beneficiaries had been cancelled and the land given back to the former landowner.

The farmers felt that the DAR had abandoned them in the past when the land conversion went unchallenged, and the Supreme Court, because of mere technicalities, had to uphold the former owners who are now converting the land into a piggery farm for San Miguel Food Inc.

I hope the farmers don’t go home forlorn and empty-handed this Christmas.