Looking back at Philippine Leprosy Mission in 2021

Thorough its long history, the Philippine Leprosy Mission (PLM) has been involved in various projects that have benefitted the nation as a whole. In the year 2021, several noteworthy and impactful stories were made with the support of various groups, government institutions, and caring individuals. As PLM continues its mission, let’s take a look back at the achievements that were made that year.

Hansen’s Help Hotline

As COVID-19 continued in the Philippines, communication became very difficult for many people to contact the help they needed. PLM received a small grant from the Sasakawa Memorial Health Foundation and, thus,  the ‘Help Hotline’ was established to enable persons affected by leprosy to access information about leprosy and to seek psychological support. This initiative was handled by the Hansen’s Club (HC) officers from January to February 2021. PLM staff oriented and trained the HC Officers on manning the Help Hotline.

The HC officers had undergone Peer counseling training in 2020 during the PALs4PALs project. PLM drafted a Help Hotline standard script to guide the HC officers. The hotline operators decided on a decking schedule and assigned cellphone numbers.

Cellphone load and honoraria of P750/month were provided to the Help Hotline operators (the club officers) during the project duration. Initially, it served as a means of communication to the members that allowed us to distribute the cash aid. Eventually, it served as a way for other PALs (non-club members) to be able to seek psychosocial and medical assistance. It also serves as a venue for the general public who seek information regarding leprosy. To this day, the Help Hotline continues to be operational.

Online posters for the Help Hotline contact numbers and schedules were created and posted on PGH Hansen’s Club and PLM’s Facebook page.

PGH Hansen’s Club Livelihood Project: Multi-purpose small business grant

PLM and the Royal Holloway College, University of London (through Anica Zeyen) collaborated on a simple study to find out the psychosocial effects of socioeconomic support on Persons affected by leprosy. As a way to help the Philippine General Hospital’s Hansen’s Club (PGH HC)  active members who do not have regular sources of income, a multi-purpose small business grant was established. Fifteen members of the PGH HC were selected and given a start-up capital, a maximum of P5,000 each, in two tranches. Each chose his/her own small, home-based business to develop, manage, and run. The participant was not required to pay the capital back but was required to save an equivalent of at least 10 percent of the profit earned from the business.

Several small businesses were established from this program: Sari-sari stores, food retailing, clothes and caps retailing, massage oil retailing, and cellphone loading business. Members marketed their products to their neighbors and friends and also to each other in the PGH HC Group Chat.

Despite the lockdowns and COVID surges in 2021, which brought challenges and impeded the progress of the HC members, some small businesses managed to survive the difficult economic situation. After all that, the participants felt grateful for the opportunity to augment their income and also bought each other products.

Small businesses set up by PGH Hansen’s Club members through the Royal Holloway project: Sari-sari store, desserts

Yaws II Study: 

Nationwide yaws active surveillance and case detection in selected areas of Luzon and Visayas regions in the Philippines

On February 23, 2021, Dr Belen Dofitas presented the findings of the Yaws II Study to the Department of Health and Dept of Science and Technology-Phil. Council of Health Research (PCHRD) and Development via Zoom meeting. The Yaws II study was able to confirm the presence of yaws among Aetas living in Sitio Mapatong, Municipality of Tagkawayan, Quezon province. This is the first report of yaws in Luzon since the last official reports in 1973. The Yaws I and Yaws II studies are laying the foundation for a future Yaws Control and Eradication Program in the Philippines.

Feedback meeting of Yaws II Study (February 2,3 2021) with Dept. of Health and DOST-PCHRD

Summary of findings of the Yaws II Study

TDR-WHO – TeleRPOID Project

Amongst the varied projects that happened in 2021, the TeleRPOID Project was the most comprehensive. The project examined the feasibility of using telehealth for training health care workers (HCWs) in integrated rehabilitation and prevention of impairments and disabilities of leprosy, lymphatic filariasis, diabetes, pressure ulcers, and other chronic wounds (TeleRPOID Project). This study was a collaboration of PLM (Gerardo Turdanes, Dr. Ana Dominique Espana), the Philippine General Hospital Department of Dermatology (Dr. Belen Dofitas, Dr. Ysabel Ortiz), the PGH Department of Rehabilitation Medicine (Dr Carlo Leochico), and the Department of Health (Dr. Julie Mart Rubite). The study investigators developed training materials, teaching videos on leprosy nerve function examination, wound care, recorded lectures, and translations of the Ten Steps reference booklet. The TeleRPOID project was one of the seven projects selected for a TDR/WHO Small Grant for Implementation Research on Diseases of Poverty.

During the initial phase of selecting the project site, PLM experienced difficulty due to the fluctuating COVID situation. This was a one (1) year project that was supposed to be completed by December 30, 2021. Due to difficulty in getting commitments from LGU personnel, a no-cost extension was made until June 2022.

VI.  Educational Assistance Program

The Educational Assistance Program was continued in 2021 with one (1) recipient, a college student taking BS Psychology who reached out to PLM via email. PLM supported the monthly internet expenses because online classes were conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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