For a leader of community health workers, whose pivotal role in delivering health services at the grassroot level is often underappreciated, leadership entails dedication, passion, and courage, especially during this period of pandemic.
By Jerico Daracan
At the onset of the community quarantine due to COVID-19 pandemic, barangay health workers (BHWs) were among the first to be mobilized by the government.
Victoria Mendenilla, a leader of community health workers in Bagong Silang, Perez, Quezon Province, recalled the day they had an emergency meeting called by local authorities in March 2020 to prevent community transmission of the virus. “We were called by our local leader in the afternoon to have an emergency meeting for COVID-19. We were told the health protocols we need to impose in our community,” narrated Victoria.
As the president of BHWs in their community for 15 years, Victoria knew that it was the start of a more challenging routine for her and her colleagues. Having a hypertensive husband also makes it more difficult for her to balance her responsibilities. “Our meeting adjourned at 7 in the evening. I saw my husband in dazed. He took his medicine twice the prescribed dose of medication,” shared Victoria. To ensure the same thing would not occur, she checks her husband’s blood pressure and prepares his medicine before she reports to work.
Prior to the pandemic, BHWs in Perez are working two to three days a week. But now, they have to attend to their duties almost every day to take care of persons under monitoring (PUMs). As a low-income island community, access to health services even before the pandemic was already a challenge in Perez and COVID-19 places a huge stress on their already strained resources. Especially when the medical attention they need could not be resolved in their community health centre because of inadequate facilities, they have to endure hours of commute to get to the nearest hospital in the mainland Quezon Province.
In addition, Victoria shared that most of her colleagues need to get extra jobs to earn additional income for their Php1,200 worth of monthly honorarium. As a consequence, some of them could not focus on their duties. By virtue of Administrative Order 26, BHWs received Php2,500 COVID-19 hazard pay in June 2020. But a BHW for more than 24 years, Victoria was fully aware that this was not enough. “It was really not enough. Some of my colleagues need to have an extra job for additional income, which I totally understand.” These issues on access to health care services and underpaid community health workers have been raised by BHWs themselves, together with public health advocates to the authorities for countless times.
Seeing these problems intensify during this pandemic, Victoria knows that it is high time to amplify their call for a more accessible, responsive, and humane health system, both for patients and health workers like them. For now, knowing her crucial role as a leader of community health workers in their island community, Victoria remains undaunted and honored on serving as a frontliner with her undying passion for, and dedication to her duties.
“Even though the enemy is unseen, and many are afraid, including myself, we need to be brave. It warms the heart especially when one can serve others,” said Victoria.