Barangay Health Worker in Dipolog City in the Philippines Connects Teen Mothers to Necessary Services
Melsa Saladdani has been a 28-year-old barangay health worker (BHW) in Barangay Biasong in Dipolog City in the Philippines since March 2019. Part of her job is to assist nurses and midwives in delivering health care services in her community, such as administering vaccines, profiling households and delivering family planning services.
As a BHW, she receives a monthly allowance of roughly US$4.00 a day. Melsa described her work:
I visit the pregnant mothers in their homes especially when they miss their appointments at the center. When they are not in their homes, I call them up or send them a text message reminding them to visit the center for their prenatal check-up.”
When supplies are available at the nearby health center, Melsa brings “Mama Kits” with her on household visits. The kits contain necessities such as vitamins for pregnant and recently postpartum women. During a recent household visit, while she was collecting annual profile data, she met Michelle Hamdugan, a 17-year-old teenager. She observed that Michelle’s stomach was protruding and rounded. So, Melsa asked if she might be pregnant. Michelle replied shyly that she had no idea. As Michelle got to know Melsa better, she slowly opened up and told her she had missed her period.
During her next visit, Melsa brought with her a midwife who administered a pregnancy test and found Michelle was indeed pregnant. Michelle lives with her partner and her younger sibling. Her parents separated and her mother lives in Manila while her father works on a small farm but does not come home regularly. When her father came home and found out that his daughter was pregnant, he accepted the news.
Melsa regularly checks on Michelle and always reminds her to visit the health center for prenatal check-ups. Melsa said:
Teen moms have a special place in my heart because I was also a teen mother. Ten years ago, there was no program such as The Challenge Initiative (TCI) that sought to help reduce teenage pregnancy in the city. TCI is the first program I know that talks about adolescent sexual reproductive health. When I was a teenager, I didn’t know a thing about contraceptives. I didn’t know about sexual reproductive health. If TCI was a program then, along with Alima for the Youth, Isip-Isip Before You Unzip, I am convinced that I would not have been a teen mom.”
Because of TCI and other programs serving youth in Dipolog City, teenagers have more access to information about their sexual and reproductive health and BHWs are more visible in the community, providing teens with information and referrals for services. Family planning commodities are also distributed in the barangays and adolescents and youth are encouraged to visit the barangay health center for questions they may have about their sexual reproductive health. This is a change from when Melsa was an adolescent:
I never felt the presence of the BHW when I was a teen mom. I believe the BHWs then just sit idly by. Today, the work of the BHW is specified and we are assigned our puroks [neighborhoods or divisions within a barangay]. With TCI, I am more inspired to work as a barangay health worker. I would wish for the adolescent girls in my catchment area to finish their studies and achieve their dreams. If I was not pregnant at such an early age, I would have been a teacher.”
In addition, data collection is now age-disaggregated to enable the city, TCI and other youth programs to effectively monitor their progress. The service delivery network and referral system is also now specific for youth and effectively encompasses all programs.