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Medicine & Healthcare, Public Health in Philippines by Joan Clark

My placement abroad

All “Health Visitors” in the UK are now registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council as “Specialist Community Public Health Nurses”, a bit of mouthful! We are all qualified nurses or midwives with an additional qualification in Public Health!

I’m Joan Clark, a Health Visitor, and my work for the last 22 years has been as part of a team, looking after families with children aged 2 weeks to school age, visiting them in their homes or at a clinic. We regularly assess child development and are a resource to parents for all aspects of health. We also spend a huge amount of time supporting vulnerable families where drug or alcohol misuse, mental ill health or child protection issues are impacting on the care of their children.

I chose to volunteer to gain experience working in a developing country and hoped to consolidate some learning from a Tropical Nursing qualification. I also felt that my skills were more useful in a community setting and that both the heat and the limited resources might be a challenge!

Volunteering in Bogo

Projects Abroad was invited to Bogo soon after Typhoon Haiyan hit the island of Leyte and the north of Cebu in November 2013. Their Public Health programme is assisting the City Health Department in the reduction of non- communicable diseases, the cause of 7 out of 10 deaths in the Philippines. Nursing shortages tie local staff to the hospital so the volunteers are able to help in the community under the guidance of Mr Gabrile Labra, a very helpful and enthusiastic nurse.

Volunteering in Bogo

Volunteer numbers fluctuated between 2 and 6 plus supervision and interpretation by Mr Labra and other Projects Abroad staff. Two mornings a week we were part of a larger team, the Medical Mission, visiting a barangay (village) where a range of services was offered, aimed at improving the population’s health. Our role was to screen those over 40 years, taking their blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol and referring on to the doctor.

If time, we gave some dietary advice but these sessions were extremely busy as it was their only access to free medical care! We would see up to 40 people, the doctor perhaps 100. Also on offer were some complimentary treatments, hair-cuts, an optician, a dentist, rabies jabs for dogs, nutrition for the young and old, seedlings and a visit from the local mayor! The atmosphere at the village centres was always buzzing, loud music, hundreds of people, tropical heat, a genuine welcome and grateful thanks!

On other days we went by van to a village, often remote, setting up our table in the shade if possible…under trees, in a chapel, in a ruined house, on a stage! Villagers over 40 years old were waiting for us and all keen to tell us their health history! Once we’d mastered this in Visayan dialect it was VERY satisfying though we could only understand a yes/no answer! The data gathered was later entered onto computer by Projects Abroad staff and the health statistics used by the City Health Office.

Free time

Local people

Twice a week we visited the colourful market in Bogo, leaving with bags of vegetables, noodles and meat ready to demonstrate healthy eating on a budget in the villages! The villagers often helped, enthusiastically chopping and shredding pineapples, mangoes and vegetables to add to our healthy salads and curries! We even used vegetables for their own plots!

A few weeks into my stay there was an outbreak of Dengue fever! We helped with the distribution of the larvicide used to control the aedes mosquitoe which spreads the disease. Our house to house visits were a valid contribution to a real emergency Public Health Programme.

Each Thursday evening Mr Aquiles Zapanta’ organized a wonderful social for all the volunteers where we learnt a lot about Philippine culture and each other’s! He was also a HUGE resource of knowledge about the country, it’s history and it’s people and gave generously of his time to help us all better understand the life of a Filipino.

Hopefully the information gathered and given by the Public Health Team can be used to reduce non-communicable diseases in the future! If the villagers are able to adopt a slightly healthier life-style, all our work will have helped! Two things are guaranteed to continue, the enthusiastic work of Projects Abroad and the heat.

Read more about Public Health in the Philippines

Joan Clark

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