Insight 2014: The Year in Health

AT THREE legislative districts and 244,000 hectares, Davao City’s health management system is a rich mix of issues ranging from the diseases inherent in dense areas to incidents arising from emergency situations.

The city has 182 barangays, 92 of which being rural and the other 90 urban. As of 2007, the city’s population was at 1.4 million. With a steady rise in population every year, the city will have to manage a population of more than 2 million, eventually.


In 2014, citizens of Davao were faced with health issues of every appearance.

As health concerns go, the city was not only subjected to disease.

In September, for example, a cargo truck toppled over and spilled formic acid. Alarmed, the city sent its responder teams through Central 911. The agency dispatched firefighters who poured gravel over the chemicals and transported the waste to another area, far from the Kapitan Tomas Central Elementary School which had to cancel classes that day out of fear the pupils would be harmed.

The school is among the city’s most densely populated.

In a recent interview, Davao City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council chair and Central 911 head Emmanuel Jaldon said this has pushed the city to upgrade its capabilities even more, from awareness levels to technical and more scientific approaches to disaster response.

In 2015, the city’s responders, among these the 911 personnel and firefighters from the Bureau of Fire Protection, will undergo hazardous materials training.

And the move is only logical. While the city has experienced several chemical spills that were eventually handled by authorities, Jaldon said this would brace the team for multi-incidents, in case there are spills during earthquakes and floods.

Robert Oconer, City Health Office point person for sanitation, said that the office had already recommended the banning of the entry of hazardous chemicals into the city even if it is in transit. However, the City Legal Office said it could not be done, citing the freedom of travel, he said.

City Council environment chair Leonardo Avila III, meanwhile, is pushing for the council to pass a measure delineating the rules on hazmats.

Evacuation recurrence

In April was the Isla Verde fire that displaced thousands from homes made from low-cost materials.

In an unprecented move, the City Social Services and Development Office was faced with providing for the basic needs of thousands of families scattered around almost a dozen barangay gyms.

Three barangays were reportedly affected, with the Davao City Police Office blaming drug use as the main “culprit” for the fire.

Reporters repeatedly asked about a central evacuation hub the city suggested late last year. At a weekly press conference, Public Safety and Security Command Center chief Francisco Villaroman said they had already discussed such an evacuation area located at a higher elevation area. The facility, Villaroman said, could house residents from calamities such as storm surges and tsunamis.
The plan has remained a plan, as of this writing.

The city, according to the City Planning and Development Office, would have to shell out hundreds of millions of public funds for the project.

According to Task Force Isla Verde head Leo Villareal, the city spent P140 million, which includes immediate assistance such as food and household utensils, as well as the redevelopment of Isla Verde’s road networks, residential sites and drainage.

Downtown for the holidays

According to Brgy. 5A chief Edgar Ibuyan Jr., Bankerohan (the other, more popular name for his barangay) has been host to visiting lumads coming from the far-flung areas of the city for more than a decade during the holidays.

This year, the number of lumad families coming down for the holidays reached 11,000.

According to University of the Philippines anthropologist Myfel Paluga, this could well have been a social issue reflective of their conditions in Marilog and Paquibato, as well as those areas outside the city.

Davao City, Paluga said, was to highlanders a “city of lights.” It was a place of wonder and opportunity. Here, though, the lumads cramped up patiently inside government gyms in between moving in the city in hopes of blessings.

December became a case of reversal; the founders of the city seemed visitors to their own homes.

As of early December, eight lumads had reportedly died during the visit. Four of these were due to diseases they already contracted on the way here.

Four deaths were due to road accidents, despite Mayor Rodrigo R. Duterte’s warning for motorists to slow down. Duterte had said the lumads “may not be aware of the traffic rules.”

According to CSSDO assistant head Liwayway Caligdong, the city was already considering advancing assistance to the far-flung areas by the holidays next year. This was so that the lumads would no longer need to come down during the holidays. Duterte, himself, said he was considering this.

Tribal leaders in Marilog say they have been wanting of basic social services for a long time.

In an interview in October, Datu Juanito Mandahay of Marilog’s Matigsalog tribe said it was costly for them to go to the nearest district hospital, with fares reaching P200 per head on average.

He said indigenous peoples preferred house visits by health officials instead, if it was possible.

In Marilog and Paquibato, the common complaints were fever and flu, as well as stomachaches and water-borne diseases.

“We are willing to be treated,” Mandahay said, “but it costs us too much.”

Locking on targets

The Department of Health and the City Health Office scrambled this year to achieve targets of 95% of immunization coverage against measles and polio. Officials from both agencies said they were finding it hard to immunize children below two years old because either the child was not at home, or that the parent or guardian was not available.

A source from the CHO added that some exclusive subdivisions did not even allow access to the officials despite coming from a legitimate government office.

Eventually, come October, Region XI achieved its target of 95% coverage, an extended deadline and a series of mop up operations later.

I am SAM

The city has recently held the helm for what used to be non-government organization Action Against Hunger’s program against severe acute malnutrition called the Integrated Management for Acute Malnutrition (IMAM). Health officials said the city mayor has been authorized by the city council to purchase medicine and equipment to fight malnutrition.

This was a landmark achievement, with the city being the first to mainstream its fight against malnutrition in a non-emergency setting through an executive order.

No “junk food?”

The city council is currently proposing to ban “non nutrient-rich food” from the menu of establishments within a certain radius from schools. The term “non nutrient-rich food” was a compromise, after a representative from the Department of Health objected to the use of the term “junk food.” DOH officials, among these DOH XI regional director Abdullah Dumama who said the agency was willing to explain the matter to the council.

False alarms

The entire year, the city’s land and borders were also threatened from viruses like Mers COV and Ebola, with several patients testing negative at the Southern Philippines Medical Center.

In Davao, residents have a relatively brighter terrain when it comes to health care.

First, access to health care facilities is relatively easy. The city has a Lingap para sa Mahirap program that assists indigents with financial constraints. The Department of Health’s Center for Health Development is also located in the city.

Next, the city’s highest officials and policymakers themselves seem to be ready to respond. Hats off, really, to their quick response.

However, so much has to be addressed regarding the city’s health situation. Barangay nutrition scholars and health workers have only recently been given an increase in salaries.

Duterte recently said the city’s health programs will be enjoying increased attention this year, with the CHO already being given an increase for the 2015 budget.

We will, of course, cross our fingers and keep watch.

Isla Verde, comprising Barangays 21C, 22C and 23C after the fire in April 4.

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