By Kara Protomartir
Navotas City, a coastal town in Metro Manila, is known for being the fishing capital of the Philippines. Urbanized, congested, and smaller than its counterparts in the metro, Navotas had to work double time to vaccinate its residents from the deadly airborne disease COVID-19.
But the city is in good hands. One particular doctor that the team of Relief International and UNICEF (RI-UNICEF) closely worked with was Dr. Christia Padolina, the medical director of Navotas City Hospital. Padolina currently oversees the vaccination rollout in the city.
The need for good leaders
Loved and respected, Padolina is known for being strict and for her demanding leadership. Residents and staff would joke, “Masungit si doc. (Doc Padolina is ill-tempered.)” This harmless banter is just a slight reflection of how Padolina treats her staff, handles problems, and deals with authorities.
For Padolina, good leadership knows how to motivate people. In a time of severe health crisis, what’s crucial is communication between leaders and people.
“At one point and the other I also talked to the mayor. I told him that it doesn’t stop with me. The leadership should be able to clearly appreciate the people from the ground and motivate them to work harder,” she said.
While leaders acknowledged the need to engage with the community early on, it is through the help of Relief International and UNICEF that the city’s leaders and experts reached out to residents, marginalized sectors at the onset of the vaccination campaign in the country.
RI-UNICEF conducted house-to-house campaigns, advocacy and learning sessions with mothers, schools, and organized capacity planning and technical tool training to empower local community leaders.
Silver lining: addressing lapses in communicating COVID vaccines
But like other cities, Navotas had the problem of communication: How do you let people know they need the COVID-19 vaccine enough to make them voluntarily go to the vaccination site?
People need to get the message first. Dr. Padolina said“Mahirap is ibabagsak ‘yung bakuna, walang cascade at communicationthen ine-expect ang people to abide. (We can’t just expect people to abide protocols and get vaccinated if we don’t communicate what it’s all about.)”
Communication doesn’t only have to be tightened with the community. It needs to be streamlined with all health workers and local government employees. RI-UNICEF’s close collaboration with leaders and experts fostered an environment where collective response is encouraged. Through the communication channels opened by RI-UNICEF, COVID-19 was treated as a problem that needs whole-of-community solutions. Padolina, experts, and stakeholders have been meeting since March 2021. Representatives continuously report progress on contact tracing, positive patients, and overall COVID-19 response.
Part of communicating the importance of COVID-19 vaccines is making them available for the constituency. As Navotas is considered the fishing capital of the Philippines, the fisherfolk in the city contribute to their city’s trade.
Acknowledging their crucial role in the economy, RI-UNICEF made sure to bring the vaccinators to the fisherfolk, to organize individual and small group learning sessions for them. 100 Navotas fisherfolk were vaccinated because of these efforts. In turn, the local government held bakuna nights to accommodate those who cannot get vaccinated during the day because they were fishing.
Mindset for the future
With most of the population now vaccinated, it’s time to turn their sights to the future. For Padolina, COVID-19 will never go away: “I think it should be embraced by the community that we will never go back to normal.”
Already, Navotas is streamlining the digitization of their health services and teleconsultations.
Local health experts are also making a COVID-19 compendium, documenting the local government efforts and lessons to abide by in the future. All RI and UNICEF efforts on-ground are also properly documented in a digital file shared with local leaders – updated as necessary. Feedback from constituents is conducted through Google Forms, compiled for the community to use during planning, training.
In the near future, Padolina says installing policies that prioritize health should ensure the sustainability of their success. “It’s a continuing crisis which needs to have a good policy and direction,” said Padolina.
Padolina is particularly grateful for all on-ground efforts of RI and UNICEF, calling the partnership ‘pivotal’ in reaching out even to Navotas residents in every nook and cranny of the city before intervening.
“What I appreciate most really is the fact that there was an in-depth evaluation of the situation before entering with an intervention,” said Padolina. “Kasi sa tingin ko namanthere is no difference in the assistance to be given in other cities but you really adjusted based on the people and the culture and the social environment that we have and that is the most important.”
For the doctor, RI and UNICEF’s efforts made possible Navotas’ faster vaccination turnout by facilitating training, listening to residents, and bringing vaccination services closer to sectors, especially the fisherfolk.
About the author
Kara Protomartir is a C4D specialist from Relief International (RI)
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