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Lack of support hampers ARMM immunization

HEALTH • 04:39 AM Sun Sep 28, 2014
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By: 
John Unson, The Mindanao Cross
DOH-ARMM vaccination (John Unson)

COTABATO CITY (Sept. 27) --The office of Health Secretary Enrique Ona is blamed for much of the constraints besetting the government’s immunization programs in impoverished Moro communities in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).For field personnel of the Department of Health (DOH) in the ARMM’s five component provinces, the lack of funding support from the department’s central office for their immunization thrusts in predominantly Muslim towns is causing demoralization in their ranks. It's an uphill struggle so to speak, an ethnic Maguindanaon nurse said.DOH-ARMM employees in Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur, both in Central Mindanao, and in Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi confirmed that there was no sufficient fiscal complement from Ona’s office to sustain the national government’s immunization thrusts in the towns where they work.The ARMM government accomplished only about 30 percent of its polio and measles vaccination targets as of September 15, the complaining health workers said.A senior provincial health official, who requested anonymity for lack of authority to speak on the issue, said DOH-ARMM workers have to spend their own money for their travels and other expenses needed when they conduct on-site vaccination activities. Add to the non-availability of funds the security issues in far-flung areas. Isn’t that emotionally taxing and stressful? It’s the Moro communities that are suffering from the insensitivity of the DOH central office,” the source lamented.Despite the odds, the ARMM’s regional health secretary, eye surgeon Kadil Sinolinding Jr., remain calm and diplomatic on his stand on the plight of his subordinates.He said besides non-availability of funds, another reason for their slow execution of the polio and measles vaccination program in the autonomous region are the strict government auditing regulations being enforced by the DOH on funds for national health programs. We can’t have definite projections of expenses due of the geographical nature of the autonomous region and the unpredictable security situation on the ground that needs frequent adjustments on the itineraries of our workers,” Sinolinding said.He said the ARMM provinces of Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao are in mainland Mindanao, while the scattered island provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi are located in the far south. Most of the areas we serve in the Basilan-Sulu-Tawi-Tawi area are island towns that are separated by seas and are unreachable if weather is bad,” Sinolinding said.There were health workers in Sulu who were kidnapped in recent months by Abu Sayyaf bandits, released only after their families paid ransom to their captors. There are so many factors, such as clan wars and inclement weather, that contributed to our slow implementation of the national immunization programs in the region,” Sinolinding said.More than 20 towns in Maguindanao were flooded in August due to heavy rains, he added.The province was declared under state of calamity by the Maguindanao provincial board three weeks ago.Sinolinding said he has been calling on the ARMM’s restive health workers to remain calm and to carry on with their immunization assignments amid the financial issues besetting the program.

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