PH partnership helps small municipality integrate CBDR into health services

“As a doctor, I have a heightened sense of the health needs of my constituents,” said Ofelia Alcantara, mayor of Tolosa, a municipality of more than 20,000 people in the central region of the Philippines. “I believe that a healthy community is the engine of a stable and productive municipality.

The vision of Mayor “Ofel” – as he is called – is for Tolosa to become an example of how to govern a municipality. This means that it must manage the economic, political and social landscape and meet the needs of the community.

Mayor Ofel delivers opening remarks at community drug rehabilitation training in Tolosa. Credit: URC

One of Tolosa’s urgent needs is to end the vicious circle of drug addiction in the community. However, until recently, the remote, low-income municipality had no programs to help treat people who use drugs (PWUD). Health workers lacked the capacity to screen and implement community-based drug treatment (CBDR) programs in their communities.

“Many initiatives need to be taken in Tolosa,” Mayor Ofel said. “It is important that local government units like Tolosa partner with agencies like USAID. This helps us develop our health program and activities.

Partnership to fight drug addiction

In 2020, Tolosa signed an agreement with USAID after the municipality was identified as one of the partner sites of USAID Renew Health – a project implemented by URC that helps PWUD, recovering individuals and their families access informal care, self-help or community-based rehabilitation and recovery support to reduce or prevent substance addiction.

In September 2021, USAID helped train 19 of the barangay (district) health workers (ASB) on screening, brief intervention and referral to treatment, an evidence-based practice used to identify, reduce and prevent problematic use, abuse and dependence to alcohol and illicit drugs. As a result, the BHWs were able to perform the municipality’s first-ever PWUD screening.

The following month, 38 BSAs participated in Tolosa’s first CBDR facilitator training. The program included measurement tools that identify strengths and areas for improvement for each of the participants, including facilitators and trainers. The training has produced a pool of CBDR facilitators who can now treat PWUD through patient-centered and compassionate CBDR services.

Among these new animators is Jo Ann Cacerez, ASB for 10 years. “I find it inspiring that we can do this now and provide needed services to members of our community,” Cacerez said.

Of the 173 PWUD in Tolosa, 125 have been screened and are now attending CBDR sessions in their barangays.


The first screening of drug users in Tolosa in September 2021. Credit: URC

Tolosa uses the General Interventions for Health and Wellness Awareness (GINHAWA) program for low-risk drug addicts and the Katatagan, Kalusugan and Damayan ng Komunidad (KKDK), or community-based resilience, health and care program for moderate drug users.

GINHAWA is a secondary prevention intervention program that focuses on improving well-being, quality of life, and life skills to prevent substance use. The KKDK program for moderate-risk users focuses on drug recovery skills and life skills, but also includes users’ families – recognizing that drug use is not just an individual problem but that it is related to the family.

Health collaborations improve Tolosa

Mayor Ofel believes that Tolosa is now making progress in improving health services.

“Although Tolosa has limited resources, there are many untapped sources of support just waiting to be discovered,” she said.

“For 2.5 years we have been collaborating with different sectors,” Mayor Ofel said. “We have made academia an ally in capacity building. We have contacted regional and national government agencies for additional logistics, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic. We have opened our doors to development partners like USAID to use Tolosa as a staging ground for their health projects.

Mayor Ofel said: “My vision is for CBDR to be fully institutionalized and integrated into the municipality’s health program – that it becomes a regular service of local government and that people actively seek stigma-free mental health care. . We are grateful for USAID assistance and hope to scale up this work for Leyte Province.

The citizens of Tolosa lead healthier lives thanks to collaborations between the local government and partners like USAID.


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