The World Health Organization-Western Pacific Region team conducted a rapid assessment on the Social Determinants of Health (SDH) last October 3-7, with the barangays of Tolosa, Leyte, to identify the non-medical factors that influence health at the barangay level.

WHO consultants Ms. April Joy David, Ms. Rachel Lee, Ms. Min Whui Fong, and Mr. Jong Hyuk Lee were assisted at the field by EVCHD DMO Marvin Guy-Joco and DOH health consultant Dr. Maria Ofelia O. Alcantara.

The SDH approach is a long existing framework used by government and non-government organizations in providing health interventions to vulnerable communities to address challenges contributing to health inequities. The SDH assessments is one of the initial steps of multiple programs that the WHO Western Pacific Regional Office, together with the Department of Health, hopes to implement in the future. The team said that this will provide valuable data to determine the health interventions needed by Tolosa. This is in line with the WHO’s initiative to model health interventions by enjoining the grassroots participate in identifying the needs of their communities.

Throughout the Philippines, Tolosa was the only pilot site selected for the SDH baseline data collection. Specific objectives for the week-long data gathering set by the WHO Western Pacific Region team are as follows: (1) to assess how Tolosa reaches and provides services for populations in vulnerable situations, (2) to define and assess a sociodemographic profile for Tolosa and the distribution of burden of disease, (3) to identify points of action to reduce health inequities (esp. NCD) targeting social determinants of health, and (4) to assess for any discrepancies in health and living conditions (esp. NCD-related) within the Tolosa municipality population, and comparing population of Tolosa with other municipalities.

Through the focus group discussions with local residents, barangay officials, and volunteer health workers, various SDH of Tolosa were identified by the team, namely: stress due to poverty, unemployment, preference towards processed food, low physical activity, alcohol consumption, and tobacco use. The barangays’ insufficiency of budget and unsteady medical supplies coming in to the barangays were also cited as factors affecting the health interventions being received of the locals. Another challenge that the participants raised was health education as locals are hesitant to seek treatment for the fear of being diagnosed with COVID-19, relying on traditional medicine, and/or only seeking treatment when sickness arise (not as a preventive measure).

During the exit conference on October 7, EVCHD Regional Director Exuperia Sabalberino expressed her gratitude towards the team and the work they are doing for the region. She noted the timeliness and relevance of the WHO’s SDH initiative which will greatly supplement the Universal Health Care developments in the country.