Benguet Gov. Melchor Diclas: Incorporating Culture and Tradition into Healthcare and Nutrition

Features | by Almi Atienza

Alongside tourism and mining, agriculture and food production are two major sources of income in Benguet. Known as the “salad bowl” of the Philippines, the province contributes to about 80% of Luzon’s daily supply of lettuce, broccoli, carrots, potatoes, cabbage, and other semi-temperate crops. This is why, during his Deep Dive—a brief immersion into the health realities on the ground—Gov. Melchor Diclas was taken aback when malnutrition cases were reported in the province.

Addressing malnutrition using a multi-sectoral approach

One of the challenges of being a mountainous province is the people’s difficulty in accessing basic healthcare services. After conducting an intense and in-depth analysis of Benguet’s healthcare situation, Diclas, along with the Department of Health Cordillera, Zuellig Family Foundation (ZFF), and the Provincial Health team, went on a deep dive and visited the two families with reported malnutrition cases in Atok, one of the province’s geographically isolated and disadvantaged area (GIDA) municipalities.

As a governor and a medical doctor, Diclas knows the importance of health and nutrition in children’s development and the future of the province. He immediately took action and pushed the provincial government team to prioritize the development of livelihood opportunities and agricultural interventions to address the food insufficiency in the area. He also directed the strengthening of the Provincial Nutrition Action Team and provided training for parents to ensure that the children’s nutrition and priority health needs are met.

Realizing the community’s need for better access to a nearby health facility, the governor also included the construction of a health facility in their local development plan to ensure that children’s health and nutrition are monitored regularly and that people do not need to walk long hours to access the nearest health station.

Institutionalizing healthcare for all

Diclas firmly believes that access to healthcare is a fundamental right of every citizen. So, when Benguet was chosen as one of the pilot areas for Universal Health Care (UHC), the province immediately signed up and started the local health system reforms.

He has put in place extensive measures to guarantee that everyone has access to healthcare, especially in isolated and underprivileged communities. To reach remote locations, mobile health clinics have been used, giving people access to essential medical care and health information.

An important feature of Benguet is its people’s deeply rooted cultural beliefs and traditions. Having a good grasp of this as an Igorot himself, Diclas understands the hesitations of people in choosing medical services over traditional healing techniques. Instead of forcing them to accept and adjust to the available health programs and services, he led the innovation of developing culturally sensitive facilities and service deliveries to cater to what the people need.

On the way to a healthier Benguet

The proactive and forward-thinking leadership of Diclas is helping Benguet move toward a healthier future. He has transformed the healthcare landscape by making sure health programs and services are culturally sensitive, investing in a stronger provincial health team, and leading health system reforms by encouraging multi-sectoral action.

He has transformed challenges into innovations grounded in his constituents’ needs and respectful of his people’s culture.#

(Published September 27, 2023)

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