Jennifer Alejandro, MD, is Chief of the Anti-Drug Council for the City of Pateros, a USAID RenewHealth project site of the URC – Project to Expand Access to Community-Based Drug Rehabilitation (CBDR) for Philippines.
Doc Jen, as she is known, is accredited with the Department of Health to perform drug addiction examinations to determine the level of addiction and mental health issues of people who use drugs (PWUD).
The government’s anti-drug initiatives have caused people to “surrender” for treatment. The volume of clients and the lack of accredited doctors is a challenge for Doc Jen, but it is a challenge that she has overcome.
“Addiction is a medical condition, so as a doctor, I feel I have a role to play in treating this condition,” Doc Jen said. “I find fulfillment in the work I do, especially when I see how a patient recovers and their family changes and they all become contributing members of our community. »
Overcoming the stigma to encourage users to seek treatment
Beyond his role as a doctor, Doc Jen has been in charge of the Anti-Drug Council of the city of Pateros for four years. This office provides services to drug addicts seeking rehabilitation, a task made even more difficult given the stigma and discrimination faced by clients and their families.
“I believe that changing the behavior of PWUD and their family members is key to increasing access to CBDR services. Many of my patients seek treatment for fear of reprisals from law enforcement. Many also resist treatment due to stigma and discrimination against people who use drugs in the community,” says Doc Jen.
USAID’s RenewHealth project helps address this challenge by providing technical support in creating evidence-based, culturally appropriate social and behavior change communication (SBCC) actions that seek to motivate PWUD and their families to seek treatment.
Survey: Family support and personal motivation are key to overcoming drug use
In 2019, the project conducted interviews with PWUDs and their family members as part of a formative evaluation of CCSC. Surveys measuring stigma and discrimination, barriers to treatment, and media preference were collected to better understand how to best reach potential clients and families and to share the information with providers as a resource.
The results indicated that barriers to treatment include stigma and discrimination. Although fear has prompted some people to seek treatment, it is often not enough to keep clients in the program. In the end, it is personal motivation and family support that are the main catalysts for change.
The data collected was presented in a three-week virtual workshop on SBCC that began April 29 and ended May 15, 2020. Attended by Doc Jen and other heads of the Anti-Drug Council, the workshop aimed to create a SBCC framework and plan for CBDR in the Philippines.
“Maternal” patrols help reduce drug crimes
During the workshop, participants shared best practices. For example, the city of Pateros mobilized faith-based organizations to provide CBDR treatment. And to secure their community, they enlisted female patrollers, or Ronda ng Kababaihan. Patrols are made up of mothers and grandmothers who, after seeing the experience of the community, seek to prevent more drug-related crime. Women patrol the barangays from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. with flashlights as their only defense. Their “maternal” approach is reported to work better than having male patrollers. Since 2017, having these women patrol the neighborhoods has helped lower the crime rate in Pateros.
Doc Jen believes that initiatives like these send a powerful message that can help change the attitudes and behaviors of not only PWUD and their families, but also community members.
“We must continue to provide CBDR because my vision is that those who have recovered can be advocates in the future,” Doc Jen said. “They can be the face of our campaign, share their stories of their journey to recovery, and inspire communities to challenge the stigma and discrimination associated with drug use.”
To learn more about CBDR, you can visit https://www.facebook.com/BawatSimulaCBDR/
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