Point of Care Around the World: Antipolo’s Barangay Health Workers
September 22, 2023/inFeatured, Health & Wellbeing, Insights
The Conduit’s “Point of Care Around the World” series was created in collaboration with the Johnson & Johnson Center for Health Worker Innovation, which catalyses efforts to respond to the human resource crisis in global health and build a thriving workforce.
To the community members, Antipolo’s cathedral is a precious symbol of constancy. It offers the community comfort and a way for strangers to make connections, just like the city’s health workers and volunteers.
Listen to an immersive audio version of this story.
The bustling city of Antipolo, east of Manila in the Philippines, has long been a favourite among Catholics. Known informally as the “pilgrimage capital of the Philippines”, the hills of Antipolo come alive every May as devotees of the Blessed Virgin embark on a journey to the shrine of Nuestra Señora de la Paz y Buenviaje (Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage).
To the community members, the city’s cathedral is a precious symbol of constancy. It offers the community comfort and a way for strangers to make connections.
Raquel has been working as a Barangay Health Officer for about 11 years. (The word “Barangay” describes a small administrative district, the most local level of government in the Philippines.) Like many of her patients, her introduction to healthcare came at a desperate moment. When her youngest child became ill, she had little choice but to quickly learn the necessary skills to care for him.
Life as a Barangay Health Worker can be difficult. The summers in Antipolo are hot and sticky. And in the winter, temperatures rarely dip below 20 degrees celsius. “It’s as if we are working 24/7,” said Raquel.
Some of the most challenging conditions Raquel faces are related to mental health. “There are so many factors to mental health issues,” she explained.
“Family is one of them, experiencing violence at home, or bullying at school. Poverty can also be a factor.”
Raquel also witnessed the pandemic take a toll on a healthcare system that was already struggling. “As we all had to stay at home, this caused some people to experience stress and depression,” she said.
Mental health is a growing concern in the Philippines. In 2020, 27 per cent of adolescent consultations at the Philippines General Hospital in Manila were related to anxiety or depression, a 17 per cent increase compared to 2019.
Sadly, it’s just one of many significant issues facing the country’s health sector. According to the medical journal, The Lancet, to reach a meaningful level of universal health coverage, countries must spend about USD $1,500 per capita, each year. In 2020, the Philippines spent just USD $430.
For Raquel and her community, the problem is personal. “We are the ones who are facing the patients,” she said. “We try to help the patients relax, we look at them, eye-to-eye. Sometimes we visit patients in their houses.”
Home visitations are a vital part of Raquel’s work. Even during the height of the pandemic, when lockdowns were in force, many home appointments continued, regardless of the risk to the health workers.
Witnessing the impact of social isolation on young people deeply affected her. “I am a mother myself,” she said. “So when I saw the children, during lockdowns, it broke my heart.”
Officially, Raquel is still a volunteer. She receives only a small allowance for her long hours of work. This, combined with her husband’s income as a food delivery driver, is barely enough to cover the family’s expenses. “Sometimes I think about leaving,” she said. “But inside my heart is a love for my community, and a love for being a health worker. I could never leave it.”
That sincere dedication to her work took on a deeper meaning recently when tragedy struck her own family. “After suffering for two hours, giving birth to a daughter, my nephew’s wife passed away,” she recalled.
“He became very sad and lonely. I am teaching him how to cope with the situation. I have asked him if he would consider seeking a professional consultation. But he’s not ready yet.”
Just as she’s done for countless strangers, Raquel’s training as a health worker put her in a unique position to offer him comfort when he was most in need. “He has told me that, to him, I am precious.”
For more on our Point of Care Around the World series, listen to The Conduit’s podcast. The latest episode includes the story of Rogelio, a highly trained Mental Health and Psychosocial Support practitioner in the Philippines.
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