MANILA, Philippines – A 30-foot bus with two exam rooms that serves as a mobile clinic travels every month to 14 barangays in Pampanga, providing health services among the disadvantaged in the communities. It is more than a medical mission. Dr. Julieta Gabiola, founder and CEO of ABC’s for Global Health, prefers to call it a community outreach program.
“Initially, we started with medical missions, but we saw a lot of gaps because there’s no continuity. The medical mission would go to different places, and you never see those places again,” Dr. Gabiola relates.
ABC’s’ mobile clinic goes to the barangays that were identified by the Social Action Center of Pampanga (SACOP), which is part of the archdiocese of San Fernando. “We are trying to partner with the local governments. Pampanga is the first since I know the infrastructure.” Dr. Gabiola is originally from Pampanga, where the mobile clinic started its operation in November 2016.Every barangay gets seen once a month. The mobile clinic returns to the same barangays, bringing one to two months’ supply of medicines that are given almost for free.
“It’s not a dole-out. They pay P50 for one month’s supply of medicines. It’s very minimal, but we believe they will be more conscious about their health, since they are participating in their own care,” Dr. Gabiola explains. “My goal is to empower the communities. If we see that they have become more health conscious, and we have controlled people’s blood pressure, for example, then we move on and identify subsequent communities where we can extend our health services.”
Founded in 2009, ABC’s for Global Health seeks to establish the foundation for healthier living through prevention and control of non-communicable chronic diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension. “So our platform is not just to treat chronic diseases but it’s also prevention, education, and research,” Dr. Gabiola explains. “We continue monitoring and building up a hypertension registry, diabetes and malnutrition registry. We hope that with the research and the outcome data that we get, we could actually change public policies and empower the local barangay workers to help take care of the needs of the people, and also for the people to take care of themselves.”
Recently, some 30 volunteers from the US came to the Philippines. About half of the group were students from California, mostly from Cupertino High School, “one of the high powered high schools in Silicon Valley,” says Dr. Gabiola. “They know they will go to med school, and they are preparing as early as high school.” Many of them belong to Friends for Philippines, “an organization composed of high school students from different schools in California who travel to the Philippines so they can immerse themselves through ABC’s for Global Health’s community clinics in different barangays across the province of Pampanga,” JB Rodriguez Eudela of ABC’s for Global Health, explains.
Also with the volunteers were representatives from Digital Medical Education International Collaborative (digital MEdIC), “an initiative from Stanford Medicine,” Kimberly Walker, PhD, instructional design and production manager, explains. “The vision of Digital MEdIC is to improve global health outcomes by increasing access to medical education and building human capacity.”
Launched in January 2016, Digital MEdIC “re-imagines education for tomorrow’s healthcare professionals.” Taking advantage of today’s innovative technology, “we are trying to build something that is web-based that our partners can access, and we can work together to create digital content that is aligned to the individual,” Kimberly Kon, program and instructional design manager, explains. “But even beyond the digital resource, we want to form partnerships across the world and develop ways by which faculty and students might work together.” They started with India as their first country partner in December 2016, and they are now looking at the Philippines as the next. Dr. Gabiola is their faculty ambassador.
“They chose ABC’s for Global Health to be the pilot project for the development of community education,” Dr. Gabiola says. “It is important to make education available through the Internet which you can access anytime, anywhere, and it’s for free. We collaborate with medical schools as well as medical institutions to develop programs that are culturally sensitive and tailored to them. So we will learn as much from them as they will from us. It’s really a collaborative effort.”
Dr. Gabiola comes from a family of 10, with a humble beginning in San Fernando, Pampanga. After studying Nursing at FEU, she went to medical school in Chicago, then did her internship and residency at Stanford, where she now teaches as clinical associate professor of Medicine. She was the keynote speaker at this year’s graduation.
She has lived in the US since 1973. Now a widow of 20 years, she lost her husband, a neuro scientist and researcher, to pancreatic cancer. Her daughter, Michaela
Finnigan, is on her third year in medical school at Stanford, while her son, Sean Finnigan, is a producer at a video gaming network.
“I spend most of my vacations doing humanitarian work here. Last year, I went on sabbatical to launch this community outreach program,” Dr. Gabiola shares. “I am very inspired because we’re getting some traction. I think the ultimate satisfaction is if we actually impact the outcome, if we see an improvement, mitigating complications from chronic diseases by changing the people’s lifestyle.”
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