International Medical Corps’ community outreach officers conducted a community awareness-raising activity on mental health and psychosocial support in Cogon District, Ormoc City. Elected community leaders, known as the Association of Barangay Captains, participated. One of the attendees was a Councilor of Barangay San Isidro, who happened to be sent as a representative for the Barangay Captain who was unable to attend on this particular day. The Councilor was pleasantly surprised to be participating in the event, and learned about how to address stigmatization of those with mental illnesses and how to advocate for greater understanding. The councilor later shared that she and her family have been greatly impacted by stigmatization and a family member’s experience with a mental health disorder.
The councilor explained that her husband suffers from a mental health disorder. He traveled to Manila for medical care and was prescribed medications and advised to seek inpatient hospitalization. The family was not able to follow through because of lack of funds and distance from the closest hospital. Her husband finally returned home without proper treatment or medications.
His journey home coincided with his wife’s attendance at International Medical Corps’ scheduled community awareness-raising activity. One week later, the counselor brought her husband to International Medical Corps’ office asking if a psychiatrist could help them. They were encouraged to schedule an appointment with their Municipal Health Officer, Dr. Sarah, who had previously participated in International Medical Corps’ mental health gap action program—which consists of training for primary health care staff in assessment, treatment and intervention for mental health disorders. Following that program, Dr. Sarah received continuing supervision and on-the-job training with International Medical Corps’ psychiatrists.
The initial visit with Dr. Sarah was followed by a second appointment where he received medications donated by the World Health Organization (WHO) and distributed by International Medical Corps.
International Medical Corps’ national psychiatrist, Dr. Carlo, supervised Dr. Sarah’s interview and consultation with the patient on the third follow-up visit as a part of the on-the-job training program. During this follow-up appointment, Dr. Carlo recommended that an additional medication be added to the treatment plan. Dr. Sarah is grateful for International Medical Corps’ mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) program which has greatly helped train and encourage her to effectively interview and treat patients with mental health issues in her clinic.
With the help of both Dr. Sarah, who was trained by International Medical Corps, and the medicines donated by WHO, the patient is now functioning at a higher level in his daily life. He also demonstrated improvement in his mental health status exam. As the patient had worked as a driver in Manila before becoming ill, Dr. Sarah stated she would give him a “fit to work” certificate provided that he adhere to his medications and continue his follow-up consultations in the clinic. Dr. Sarah has since reported to International Medical Corps that the patient is attending follow-up appointments regularly and continues to improve.
This story is a testament to how the MHPSS program team, consisting of a program manager, a psychosocial officer, psychiatrists, psychologists, program officers and community outreach officers, has been able to work on a variety of levels within the municipalities to ensure increased understanding for mental health-related issues and appropriate follow-up and care. Organizing community-based awareness activities has helped to educate community members about a variety of mental health-related topics and the importance of seeking appropriate interventions, as well as increasing sensitivity towards such issues. By working on a grassroots level, along with the rural health units, International Medical Corps has helped connect community members with doctors and appropriate professionals, while each separate activity paved the way for holistic health care management for our beneficiaries throughout the Leyte region. With the growing number of trained health staff and resources in the province, it is expected that those patients who are experiencing financial and other hardships will now be able to access help and support in their very own localities.
Deep-rooted change within individuals and communities is needed to address the needs of women and their families and International Medical Corps is initiating that change in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The following story told by a husband and father is just one example of our success.
“My name is Rashidi. I was in charge of collecting taxes in the mining zones in Walikale. We used to make a lot of money which was often used up in buying alcohol and engaging in promiscuous behavior. I did not have the concept of saving. I lived for the day because I knew that I would get more money the next day. I never cared about my wife or my children.
“When the job at the mines ended, I was left with nothing. I heard people talk about men’s discussion groups and decided to join because I was curious to know what they were about. During the discussions about negative masculinity, I realized that I was my biggest enemy. I decided to stop drinking alcohol and concentrate on improving the status of my family. I started helping my wife on the farm and involving her in making decisions.
“In August 2014, I got a part-time job conducting an assessment for an NGO. I was paid $30 and for the first time in my life, I shared the money with my wife. She asked for $20 to start a business of selling fish and I gave her the money. Her business has grown and from the profits, we decided to buy two goats. I have been able to start my own business as well and together, we plan to buy a piece of land and build a house. In one year, we have been able to acquire property from a start of $20, something that I was unable to do when I illegally earned $3,000 per month from the mines.
“I thank International Medical Corps for having started this program and I would like them to reach more people with this work.”
With the generous support of GlobalGiving and other donors, International Medical Corps is able to initiate programs such as these and help people like Rashidi change his life in constructive ways. Not only does this work positively impact individuals and their families but it also leads to lasting change for entire communities.
Reaching most parts of Walikale territory is difficult, particularly in Kibua health zone, in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). If health centers are hard to reach, people don’t have ready access to specialized services such as obstetric emergency and newborn care – and doctors and nurses don’t have the medicines, medical supplies and equipment they need to deliver quality services to the local population. The most affected areas are those which are only accessible on foot. International Medical Corps assists in mobilizing the communities served by these health centers to help transport medicine, medical supplies and equipment. For those living in the area, these health centers are the only reasonable means of support so it is critical that they are adequately equipped.
Ntoto is one such health facility, located 82 km (or two days’ walk) from the main referral hospital in Kibua town. It serves a population of more than 10,000 people and is the only health center that offers emergency obstetric care including caesarean sections. After being vandalized in December 2014 and again in February of 2015, it was left with no medicines or supplies and the major equipment was either damaged or stolen. International Medical Corps, in coordination with local community partners, conducted an assessment to identify the urgent needs of the hospital. International Medical Corps used that information to purchase everything the referral health center needed to continue to provide lifesaving health care services to the population.
Because of the difficulties in getting the materials to the health center, International Medical Corps sought the help of a United National Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) helicopter to transport more than 350kg of maternity equipment, surgical kits, medicine and supplies to Ntoto. More than 15 community members were at the airstrip to offload the materials and carry them to the health center.
Community leaders continue to advocate with rebel groups to keep away from hospitals and health centers to avoid future vandalism. Since the arrival of the equipment in the health facility, Ntoto has been able to provide successful emergency obstetric care to five pregnant women experiencing complications. During the last conflict, the health facility lost nothing.
Thanks to the generous support of GlobalGiving and other donors, International Medical Corps is able to continue meeting the needs of mothers and soon-to-be mothers in Eastern DRC. This lifesaving support is critically needed in the region and will have a lasting impact on the lives and heath of women and infants.