Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic up until April 2022, more than 3.6 million people living in the Philippines have contracted the virus. With nearly 60,000 of those cases resulting in fatalities, health in the Philippines must be a priority. Community Health Worker groups, specifically Barangay Health Workers (BHW) and Barangay Nutrition Scholars (BNS), are working to improve the health of those living in the Philippines.
Health Care in the Philippines
In February 2019, the Philippine government passed the Universal Health Care Act Republic Act into law. This act sought to improve health care for Filipino citizens by making these services more affordable, especially for those without medical insurance. Through the Universal Care Act Republic Act, all Filipinos can enroll in the National Health Insurance Program to allow health insurance coverage for all. To finance this, the Philippine government extended its health care expenditure to almost 6% of its total GDP.
Despite these efforts, access to health care is not equal for all. It is challenging for rural and low-income areas to receive the same treatment as those living in upper-class communities. Private and more expensive medical facilities where those of higher-income regions receive treatment are often better equipped than public hospitals. Health care for all must be a priority in the Philippines, especially after the nation’s polio outbreak in September 2019. Community health workers like BHW and BNS are essential to the nation during outbreaks and epidemics. These workers provide health information and primary care to those in more vulnerable areas.
Barangay Health Workers
Barangay Health Workers (BHW) consist of trained volunteers within the community who provide information regarding overall health. They also offer first aid, maternal and child health care, environmental health care and connect patients to health care centers.
BHW has been present in the Philippines for about 40 years and they receive government support. In 1995, Philippine Congress passed the BHW Benefits and Incentives Act, which encouraged the group “to self-organize, to strengthen and systematize [its] services to communities and to create a forum for sharing experiences and recommending policies and guidelines.” The act also required the government to provide benefits to BHWs, such as “scholarships for their children” and an allowance.
BHWs play a significant role in improving health in the Philippines. In 2014, after Typhoon Haiyan ravished island barangays, Direct Relief financed a training program for 50 BHWs to educate them on recognizing and treating illnesses that affect children. To this end, the health workers participated in the Community Integrated Management of Childhood Illness training program. The module emphasized “the 12 key childhood illnesses danger signs” in order to avert preventable child deaths.
BHWs also educate and encourage citizens to receive immunizations against illnesses such as polio to contain the spread. In 2016, the Philippines had 216,941 BHWs in the nation.
Barangay Nutrition Scholars
Like BHWs, Barangay Nutrition Scholars (BNS) promote and educate on proper health in the Philippines. However, their primary focus gears toward improving nutrition. In 2011, 25% of Filipino “women of reproductive age” suffered from anemia. For children younger than five-years-old, this statistic reached almost 35% in that same year.
BNS is essential to combating malnutrition in the Philippines. The group conducts growth monitoring for clients, provides nutrition education and collaborates with local organizations that encourage citizens to achieve sustainable nutrition by gardening and raising livestock.
BNS members must complete training that involves a 20-day practicum where trainees learn how to weigh young children and measure their heights to ensure that children are receiving proper nutrition at home. In addition to monitoring children’s health, BNS also provide classes for parents who may be unaware of how important nutrition is for their children’s development. These classes educate on balanced diets and how to prevent malnutrition. By July 2020, 49,779 BNS members had worked across 39,942 barangays in the Philippines.
Groups like BHW and BNS are crucial for ensuring proper health in the Philippines. Volunteers are making a significant difference within their communities. The more healthy people there are, the more contributions that can go towards the Filipino workforce, improving the economy and quality of life in the nation overall.
– Megan Quinn