(VIDEO BLOG) This is Definitely Not “Grey’s Anatomy”: Microfinance Medical Mission on Pitogo Island

By Jamie Greenthal | KF 17 | Philippines

Waiting with baited breath for the results.

While watching TV medical dramas over the years, I often fantasized about being a perfectly coiffed doctor who miraculously cures patients in under an hour (including commercial breaks) without breaking a sweat, and always remembers to flash a pearly white smile before the credits roll.  While it seemed glamorous on TV, I knew, from being a patient myself, that the TV doctor exists only in Hollywood.

Last weekend, on remote Pitogo Island in the middle of the Philippine Sea, at a medical and dental clinic organized by Kiva partner Community Economic Ventures, Inc. (CEVI), I finally saw what it is really like to be making immediate diagnoses and treating patients on the spot.  There was no time for days of testing or follow-up appointments; this was a one-episode deal.  For the doctors and nurses who volunteered, they were just doing their jobs, albeit far from their homes in Manila.  For me, it was an unforgettable and emotional experience.

To set the stage for the video that you are about to watch, here is an explanation of, and my reflections on, the “CEVI Medical and Clinic 2012”.

Over the course of two days, 42 doctors, dentists, and nurses from Manila provided free health care services to nearly 1,000 residents of Pitogo.  Sixty CEVI staff organized and volunteered during the event, performing work such as patient intake, prescription distribution, data entry, and event documentation (the latter two were my jobs).  How is this related to microfinance, you may ask?  CEVI views this event as an extension of its mission to support economically disadvantaged Filipinos who live in isolated and vulnerable communities.  Nearly 600 hundred of the patients are CEVI borrowers.  A healthy client has a better chance of building a successful microenterprise (and paying back a loan).

Over the course of the two-day event, I was constantly moved by the dedication of the medical staff and volunteers, who performed their jobs with delicate grace.  I was equally touched by the reactions of the patients, many of whom had never visited a doctor or dentist in their lives.  Witnessing a dentist explain to adults how to brush their teeth was both heart breaking and inspiring.

I couldn't resist; the children of Pitogo are so cute.

On the bangka back to the “mainland”, which is actually another island, Bohol, I felt emotionally nourished, but still had questions about the effectiveness of the clinic.  I wondered if the services that we provided are sustainable.  Will the woman who I saw have six teeth extracted be able to afford dentures?  Probably not.  Will the man who was prescribed 10 antacid pills need more after he runs out?  Probably.

Whether it is medical or financial services that are being delivered to these communities, an important goal is sustainability.  While expensive prescriptions and medical treatment may not be replicated easily, the wisdom that the medical staff and volunteers imparted on the residents of Pitogo should last well beyond the time when the medicine runs out.  Health education is a service that these folks can put into practice today and pass along to the community and future generations.  I think that falls into the category of sustainability, along with the loan, insurance, and savings products that CEVI provides to this community.

Knowing this makes me optimistic for the people of Pitogo, who undoubtedly deserve the best for themselves despite what we in the West would consider challenging health and financial situations.  Despite their situational limitations, I think that they are happier and more fulfilled than we realize, and my experience at the clinic only reinforced this belief.

Hope you enjoy the video:



This is "copra" (i.e., dried coconut), which will be sold by this woman from Pitogo and then turned into cooking oil or biodiesel, for example.

Jamie Greenthal is a Kiva Fellow working with Community Economic Ventures in Tagbilaran City, Philippines. 

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