Becoming Health Champions

By Maria Teresita N. Franco

“I came here to inspire you, instead I’ll be leaving inspired,” said third district Camarines Sur Representative Leni Gerona-Robredo before mayors and municipal health officers (MHOs) of La Union and Pangasinan provinces in Region 1. The mayors and MHOs had their colloquium, a final requirement to complete their Municipal Leadership and Governance Program (MLGP), a capability program given in partnership with the Department of Health, Zuellig Family Foundation and an academic institution. During the event, mayors shared how their personal and leadership transformations paved the way for much-needed reforms in their local health systems to help their poor constituents.

Robredo, after seeing the improvements in the municipalities’ health scorecards, also shared how her husband, the late Interior Secretary Jessie Robredo, used community participation in governance to fix the political and health systems when he was the mayor of Naga City, Camarines Sur. “Mayors and MHOs should maximize the huge potential of the local government units (LGUs) because I believe the LGUs are the first line of defense of the national government especially in the face of adversities,” she added.

Another colloquium was also held in Davao City for mayors and MHOs of Region 11. In that event, San Isidro Mayor Justina Yu said, “I realized how heartbreaking it was to be poor.” Yu witnessed the struggles of her parents in availing the needed maternal health services because of poverty. Her mother, who delivered all her 12 babies with the help of a hilot (traditional birth attendant), died at 47. “I understood then that poverty is an enemy. I promised myself to help the lonely, the sick and the poor and certainly to find a way to reduce, if not eliminate, mother and childbirth mortality,” she continued.

Yu’s municipality of San Isidro reported zero maternal and infant mortality this year. She believes her participation in the MLGP helped her understand her role as a mayor and recognize the partners that could help her in identifying problems and strategies to address the needs of the poor.

Like other leaders of municipalities that had their colloquiums, Yu improved her municipal health system by strengthening the barangay and municipal health boards, improving the health information systems, opening birthing facilities and updating health technologies and equipment and hiring competent health workers.

The MLGP is a one-year, two-module training program aimed at addressing inequities in the country’s local health system by empowering local leaders including mayors and MHOs through leadership and governance training, coaching and practicum. The Academic Partner (AP) in Region 1 is Benguet State University (BSU) while the Davao Medical School Foundation, Inc. (DMSFI) is for Region 11. ZFF president Ernesto Garilao reminded leaders that though health outcomes have been improving, there are still residual challenges that need to be addressed.

“This is not the end. It is only just a beginning of becoming a champion in health. It is always important to revisit the purpose and vision of the mayors and MHOs,” said Garilao in his brief remark during the Davao Colloquium. He reiterated the importance of bridging leadership in addressing social divides and health inequities, and challenging the health leaders to continue the good practices that they have started.