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Health technology to help improve service — Doctors Without Borders


By Patricia B. Mirasol, Reporter

PHILIPPINE local health authorities should use technology such as telemedicine to better serve communities, according to a manager from Geneva-based humanitarian group Médecins Sans Frontières or MSF (Doctors Without Borders).

“One thing any agency should invest on in terms of advancing and changing their approaches is the integration of technology, such as in mental healthcare [delivery],” Al Madale, an MSF manager who worked with victims of the 2017 Marawi terror attack, said in a Zoom interview.

From traveling an hour to nearby Iligan City in Southern Philippines to provide psychiatric consultation to a single patient, the civic group started using telemedicine to deliver the service to patients who need not leave Marawi, the capital of Lanao del Sur.

Capacity building, cohort monitoring, community work and supply management were the most important components of the Marawi project, Mr. Madale said.

Five years have passed since militants linked to Islamic State laid siege to Marawi, displacing 98% of the city’s 200,000 population. In December 2022, MSF closed its project and handed over management to local health authorities.

The five-year project shifted focus over time, Mr. Madale said. In July 2017, MSF staff provided clean water and psychological first aid to the city’s residents. The group later expanded its focus to include health education and the treatment of noncommunicable diseases.

The top causes of death in Marawi are all noncommunicable, though upper respiratory tract infections, dengue and skin diseases at temporary shelters also a concern.

MSF has worked to narrow medicine supply gaps by managing patient groups. This had allowed the project’s team members to determine how many medicines were needed so orders could be placed on time.

“We always monitored the morbidities that were arriving in our clinics,” David Lorenzo, a coordinator for the Marawi project, said. “Based on that, we could realize whether we needed to change our strategy, or focus on a more specific disease.”

Community health workers play a key role in providing support, Mr. Madale said, adding that they need all the support that they can get.

“They are the key factor in advocating and promoting health in the community,” he said. Thanks to these frontline workers, residents now have access to the right health information. “We can now fight false information that is going around.”

There were about 9,000 outpatient consultations in 2022 for both primary healthcare and concerns about noncommunicable diseases, up from 2,300 in 2018, MSF said in an e-mail.

Marawi stakeholders appreciated that workers from Doctors Without Borders do not take sides in any conflict, Mr. Lorenzo said.

“Neutrality is the only way we can access many populations in the world,” he said. “For us, this is essential to have access to communities.”

Marawi’s local government officials were likewise “very supportive.” “This is not so common in many other countries,” he said. “In Marawi, they were participative and cooperative. It was a really nice partnership experience.”

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