The House committee on indigenous cultural communities (ICCs) and indigenous peoples (IPs) chaired by Rep. Nancy Catamco (2nd District, North Cotabato) recently approved a substitute bill which seeks to institutionalize the training of IP health workers (IPHWs) to strengthen the health care system in cultural and indigenous communities.
The bill is in line with the State policy to provide cheap and affordable quality medicine and appropriate medical services to citizens in far-flung areas and indigenous cultural communities.
The unnumbered measure substituted House Bill 2886 authored by former President now Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (2nd District, Pampanga).
Macapagal-Arroyo said despite the provision in the fundamental law that the State recognizes and promotes the rights of the indigenous cultural communities within the framework of national unity and development, the ICCs still have no access to basic services especially healthcare.
“Most tribes and settlements of the ICCs are located in the hinterlands, making it difficult for them to avail of such services,” Macapagal-Arroyo said.
With no other recourse, ICCs turn to traditional medicines and healthcare whenever a member gets sick, said Macapagal-Arroyo.
“The benefits of modern medicine and healthcare are rare for ICCs, making them susceptible to serious health problems,” said Macapagal-Arroyo.
She explained that government agencies and non-government organizations (NGOs) have sought ways on how to improve the health conditions of the IPs for the past decades.
“One way is the sending of medical personnel to these indigenous communities in order to treat common illnesses,” Macapagal-Arroyo said.
With the formal health care delivery system in the country almost exclusively located in cities and municipalities, she said there is an urgent need to train health workers from ICCs to intensify the practice of traditional and alternative medicine, as well as first aid treatment for their members.
An indigenous peoples health worker (IPHW) as defined in the bill refers to a member of an ICC who has undergone health training by either government or NGOs, and renders voluntary health care in the IP community.
Qualified to have IPHWs are all ICC/IP communities that are located within 10 kilometers from the barangay center.
The bill further provides there shall only be one IPHW to serve 20 families and that the number of families in a community shall determine the number of IPHWs that will serve the IPs.
The IP community chief shall appoint the IPHW, upon the confirmation of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), and submit his/her name to the local health board.
The local health board meanwhile shall register the appointed IPHW and shall furnish a copy of the list of IPHWs to the Department of Health (DOH), National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG). The DILG shall maintain a national list of IPHWs to ensure the engagement of the NCIP, DILG and local government units (LGUs) with the IPHWs, which is crucial in the delivery of basic health services to the ICCs/IPs.
The training of IPHWs shall primarily consider the needs, aspirations, culture and tradition, language and learning styles of the ICCs and IPs.
Among the duties of the IPHWs are: provide primary health care to members of the ICCs/IPs; assist, should the need arises, sick person/s to the nearest clinic or hospital; and establish an herbal garden in the community since primary health care may use traditional medicines, one of which is herbal medicines traditionally available and held by the ICC/IP group.
The bill provides incentives and benefits to the IPHWs such as free health care insurance and hospitalization, educational benefits, continuing training and free legal services, among others.
Other authors of the bill are Catamco, Reps. Jose Panganiban Jr. (Party-list, ANAC-IP), France Castro (Party-list, ACT TEACHERS), Allen Jesse Mangaoang (Lone District, Kalinga), Gabriel Bordado Jr. (3rd District, Camarines Sur), Wilter Wee Palma II (1st District, Zamboanga Sibugay) and Cecilia Leonila Chavez (Party-list, BUTIL).