It is a Friday afternoon at the Integrative Medicine for Alternative Healthcare Systems (INAM) headquarters along Malakas Street in Quezon City, and the office is bustling with people. INAM is offering free acupuncture sessions that day, as part of its efforts to reach out to more citizens.
The name speaks volumes. “Mainam”(well) is an adjective in Filipino that does not quite mean the same as “mabuti” (good), “maayos” (in order) or “maganda” (beautiful). It connotes a certain profound, positive condition that is neither fleeting nor superficial.
A conversation with INAM’s Dr. Jennifer Madamba, head of advocacy/ networking, research and training, reveals that such acupuncture services are only part and parcel of what the organization intends to accomplish.
“It’s evolving,” Madamba says, referring to the objectives of INAM which started in 1984 as Acupuncture Therapeutic and Research Center. At that time, the aim was to provide health options for Filipinos especially in far-flung areas. Access to health services was difficult, and just making the trip to the hospital was too expensive. “As a result, many were dying without even seeing a doctor.”
After 17 years of providing community-based acupuncture services and training, however, the people behind ATRC felt the need to expand their scope. “Somehow we felt that acupuncture had simply replaced the pill, and we wanted to do so much more. If we want to make a real difference, we should train our sights on the entire health care system.”
The group then became known as INAM Philippines, developing Philippine Integrative Medicine based on science and culture, and with a strong research and community participation component.
PIM is a specific mentality, or consciousness about what the health care system is supposed to do for the individual and for entire communities. “It is a result of the interplay among socio-economic, political, ecological and spiritual aspects,” Madamba says.
The traditional Chinese medicine training continues for doctors and non-doctors alike. These however are included in the framework of better community-based health service that involves rather than excludes the stakeholders in the local health scene—residents and decision makers alike.
How is this done? The first step is community organizing. The partners gather information about the state of health in the specific area of operation. What are the most common diseases observed? What are the problems encountered in relation to obtaining health services? Communities surveyed, as a standard, are either geographically isolated or has a significant marginalized population.
And because the problems identified are particular to the community, the solutions proposed are spot on, specific, and come from the residents themselves. Which cases should be referred to doctors? Which can be addressed using alternative means?
The empowered, organized communities, well-versed with their actual needs and knowing what the solutions can be, can now make a real difference by influencing policy and then budget especially when they sit as people’s organizations in barangay health boards or in other capacities.
Dr. Madamba underscores that the crucial issue here is participation of the community as main stakeholders.
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Knowledge transfer is a key component of training, especially in isolated communities which INAM may only be able to visit on a limited basis.
The islands of Homonhon and Manicani in Eastern Samar, are an example.
INAM provided relief and rehabilitation services for these Yolanda-battered areas, including a medical mission and ear acupuncture detox which is a known way to treat post-traumatic stress disorder.
Then again, they cannot keep coming back as often as they’d like, or as needed. Training is then conducted, usually in partnership with local health officials—with trainings done in official areas like the barangay or municipal hall. Local leaders, being frontliners in governance, must themselves have a sense that everything being done is an effort to improve the system aside from providing short term relief.
“Health is a state of total well-being,” Madamba says. “We’d like to think we are making a dent in addressing the problems not just of individuals but communities.”