Dr. Francesca Gajete of the Philippines calls on her counterparts to get the job done.
Three decades ago, creating awareness and translating this into actions taken by the leprosy control program was not as difficult a task for a program manager as it is today. Support from international organizations, the national government and non-governmental agencies was focused on eliminating leprosy as a public health problem, on establishing quality leprosy services in sanitaria, and on implementing manuals of procedure and training modules. Leprosy control was the priority program back then.
Program managers now are faced with numerous challenges. Foremost is how to reach out to health workers in the field, who are given so many programs to implement. Program managers need to prioritize their actions according to the funds available from the government, international and local partners, but more importantly, according to what the local chief executives want to see implemented. So it is important for a program manager to collaborate with local government units, in order to ensure that the leprosy program is always included in their year-round plans and programs.
One must also be proactive, always planning and thinking ahead. For the Philippines, it has been a difficult journey and it always will be. The frequent changes of political leaders, government officials and field health workers mean we continually have to conduct training in basic leprosy orientation, case management -- particularly on prevention of disability -- self-care and psycho-socio-economic rehabilitation.
The Philippines' leprosy control program has proved quite successful, however, in getting national and local government support to enable us to sustain the elimination of leprosy as a public health problem and to provide quality services at all levels of health care. This is not enough, though; we have to be vigilant and constantly aware of the needs of the times so that the program will get the appropriate support at the most opportune time.
To beat the odds, a leprosy program manager must possess the virtues of commitment, perseverance and sincerity, as well as a deep concern for persons affected by leprosy -- they are, after all, what the program is all about. The Enhanced Global Strategy and Operational Guidelines for 2011-2015 give a more defined role both for program managers and for persons affected by leprosy. They should work hand in hand as partners, and the partnership between them will serve to push forward the human rights dimension to end once and for all the stigma and discrimination that continue to impede our progress.
I issue this call to my fellow national program managers: let us each get our act together so that we hasten the day we attain our common goal of a leprosy-free world.
Dr. Francesca Gajete is Manager, National Leprosy Control Program, The Philippines. She has been involved with the leprosy program for over three decades.