Office of the Vice President
06 July 2017
IN PITCH FOR HOLISTIC APPROACH VS. HUNGER
VP Leni renews call to ‘professionalize’ barangay nutrition scholars, health workers
Vice President Leni Robredo is pushing anew for the “professionalization” of barangay health workers (BHWs) and nutrition scholars (BNS), as she reiterates the need for a holistic approach to solve hunger and malnutrition in the Philippines.
Robredo issued this call in her closing speech at the 43rd Seminar Series of the Department of Science and Technology’s Food and Nutrition Research Institute (DOST-FNRI) on Wednesday. Held in line with the National Nutrition Month, the event was attended by policy makers, program planners, nutritionists, community health workers, public health practitioners, members of the academe and research organizations, food industry partners, and students, among others.
The Vice President pointed out that many BHWs and BNSes are often “overworked and grossly underpaid” as they attend to health concerns in their respective communities.
She said institutionalizing a regular salary for them is an “important first step” towards achieving solutions for hunger and malnutrition in the country.
“Marami po kaming katrabaho [na gaya nila] na sila ang nangangalaga ng mga malnourished children, pero sila rin ang number one na nangangailangan. Inuuna ang pinagsisilbihan kaysa mga pamilya [nila],” she said. “[I]to ay important first step sana – na iyong mga nangangalaga, dapat sila ang unang alagaan.”
Under the law, accredited BHWs are entitled to “incentives and benefits,” which include hazard and subsistence allowances, “career-enrichment” opportunities, free legal services, as well as the availability of loanable funds for organized groups of this kind of volunteers.
Meanwhile, BNSes receive “a modest monthly traveling allowance” from the National Nutrition Council, which oversees the initiative. The amount of the said allowance depends on the “financial capability” of the local government units, which may ask that their BNSes be covered by an accident insurance under the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS).
During her term as representative of the third district of Camarines Sur, Robredo was among the principal authors of House Bill No. 6443, or “An Act Strengthening the Barangays Through Support for Barangay Officials and Volunteer Workers.”
The measure proposed an honorarium of at least P500 for volunteer workers in communities, including BHWs. It also sought PhilHealth coverage for them, as well as trainings and workshops “on how to effectively exercise their duty.”
The said bill managed to get the nod of the House Committee on Local Government, but was not passed under the 16th Congress.
The Vice President said she has asked several lawmakers to re-file the measure. Similar bills on this are currently pending at the Committee level of the lower chamber.
‘Effective’ feeding program
In her speech, Robredo again underscored the importance of going beyond the usual feeding program in order to address hunger, particularly among young Filipino children, some 3.7 million of whom are suffering from stunting – a condition indicative of a level of chronic malnutrition, and irreversible beyond age five.
She noted that feeding programs here may follow certain models, such as the award-winning Zero Hunger Program of Brazil, which she implemented in her district when she was a representative. Under the initiative, regular hot meals were provided for children in far-flung schools, which were partly sourced from food produced by poor farmers, many of whom were parents of the malnourished children.
“We also need to find sustainable solutions that will help parents raise healthier children, educate their families, and give them options and alternatives of nutritious but affordable food. This means that their parents must have better livelihood and sources of higher and more regular income, they must be better educated on how to prepare more nutritious food, and the whole community must realize that protecting our children from hunger and malnutrition will take the combined efforts of the entire barangay or municipality – in fact the whole nation,” she said.
During the event, the Vice President stood witness to the presentation of major awards for the event’s Scientific Poster Competition, as well as the Undergraduate Student Research Competition, which touched on the areas of nutrition and food technology.
Robredo expressed her hope that the activities “deepen the discussion on how to further push our agenda of protecting the health of the nation.”
In particular, she lauded student participants and winners in the undergraduate research competition, saying she was “very interested” in such work and hopes “to hear how these ideas are crystallizing into real solutions” to solve the problems at hand.
Under its Angat Buhay program, the Office of the Vice President has partnered with several organizations to launch feeding programs in laylayan areas where there are families with the most undernourished children.
The OVP supports the Department of Health’s “First 1,000 Days” program, which aims for proper nutrition in the critical first 1,000 days of a child’s life, in order to prevent irreversible effects of micronutrient and energy deficiencies.