A group of doctors here is pushing for the integration of indigenous practices with western medicine and the government’s health programs to benefit more people, especially those in remote villages.
“We should integrate indigenous practices with the health programs that we provide to the community,” Dr. Ryan Guinaran of the Doctors for Indigenous Training and Education Networking and Governance (DITENG) told the Philippine News Agency (PNA) after the group’s “Am-Among (gathering) for Health” forum in Baguio on Wednesday.
“Baka ang sagot ng problema sa kalusugan sa hinaharap ay makukuha sa indigenous culture, kaya napakahalaga na hindi natin nakakalimutan ngayon ang mga ito (The solutions to health problems in the future might be taken from indigenous culture, thus, it’s vital that we do not forget these).”
DITENG is a group of medical doctors advocating behavioral change and inter-phase of culture and health. They do researches and documentation of cultural practices, espousing cultural sensitivity, and conduct seminars on their advocacy.
Guinaran, himself a member of indigenous people (IP), said it is a cultural pride that some health practices that had been proven effective and passed on to newer generations by their ancestors are still being used to this day.
He cited for example massage – with the use of oil and leaves of plants found in the backyard – to relieve a simple muscle pain.
Guinaran explained further: “We have indigenous medicines, indigenous human resources na hindi naman kailangan alisin sila. Hinahanap nila [patients] yan dahil sa hilot nakikita nila ang care na hindi nila nakikita sa atin [modern doctors]. Dahil sa atin, parang treatment natin dyan ay trabaho, sila [indigenous human resources], serbisyo. So, mas homey (We need not set aside or remove indigenous medicines and indigenous human resources. Patients still look for them, like in massage, since they feel the care that they don’t see in us, doctors. To us, doctors, we usually treat the task as a job, while the traditional health practitioner treats it as a service. So, it’s more personal).”
Guinaran lamented that in Cordillera alone, there are indigenous practices, values, and food sources, which are abundant but are not being researched on.
“How can you promote something which you do not know? Kailangan aralin at i-document (We need to study and document) and look for the best beneficial practices and adopt them in the programs,” he said.
He noted that modern medicine is backed by scientific researches, which espouse practices similar to indigenous medicine.
“We can say naman na it’s also scientific dahil ti-nest na natin yan sa ating mga katawan (as we’ve also tested it on our own bodies). For so many generations yan ang ginagamit natin (we have been using that),” he said.
“We should adopt a variable implementation,” Guinaran said of the government’s health programs.
He said the Department of Health (DOH) should adopt cultural-sensitive programs and facilities to be able to bring more of their services to the far-flung communities.
This will also make the IPs adopt and accept programs and health services more openly, he pointed out.
“Sometimes you begin to wonder why with all these technologies and programs some still refuse to adapt to the advocacy of the DOH like going to health facilities to give birth? And it is because some still see traditional centers, the ‘hilot’, as more homey,” Guinaran remarked.
Meanwhile, DOH-Cordillera assistant regional director Dr. Amelita Pangilinan, in a separate interview with the PNA, said the health department had started to showcase indigenous practices in its national office.
“We have awakened. That’s why we are starting with IP birthing facilities,” Pangilinan, a native of Mountain Province, said.
This year, cultural birthing facilities would be put up in various parts of the Cordillera to convince all pregnant mothers in the region to go to health facilities to give birth, Pangilinan disclosed.
“Some mothers refuse to give birth in facilities because they do not want stirrups, they want to hold on to a rope or their husbands,” Pangilinan explained.
She said the architects of the department have come up with a scale model of birthing facilities that are “IP friendly”, integrating the different practices of the different provinces.
Included in the scale-model is a “dap-ay” at the backyard of the facility, where the families of the mother can stay while waiting.
A dap-ay is a circular structure made of rocks with bonfire at the center, where relatives stay together as they await the arrival of a new family member.
Pangilinan said the integration of traditional practices in government health programs actually began under the watch of the late former senator and DOH Secretary Juan Flavier, who popularized the “Doctors to the Barrio”.
She said the DOH started to mainstream traditional medicine with the “sampung halamang gamot” (10 medicinal leaves). She related that in the provinces, there are no antibiotics and people concoct medicines using plants.
Pangilinan added that the department also has a core of trainers, who teach people on indigenous medical practices.
For instance, she cited, the “gis-gis-u”, a massage therapy using just a stick, is also now being pushed.
In reality, she noted, many locals simply take a massage or drink tea with soothing mint to soothe the lungs and throat, for instance, doing away with chemical medicines.
She added that with many areas in the region that are difficult to reach, they do trainings to enhance the indigenous medical practices, just to make sure serious health issues are avoided.
She said the health department is also trying to correct some traditional practices in circumcision, like the use of ashes, to promote health safety and faster healing.
A number of academic studies are now being done, she said, on enhancing the medical practice with cultural health practices, for the benefit of far-flung communities.
She noted that traditional medical practices strongly prevail in many remote areas in the Cordillera precisely because these are remote. (PNA)
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