Monday, November 2, 2009


RURAL HEALTH PERSONNEL AND OFFICIAL STAFF, at a get-together X'mas party in Arayat, Pampanga. 21 Dec. 1955.

When the Americans came to colonize our country, they were shocked at the state of our public health. There were no sanitary toilets, people tended to defecate everywhere, and the sewage system was non-existent. They actually believed that we were a contaminated race. The there was the tropical climate which American scientists and doctors at first believed was hazardous to the health.

Diseases like dysentery, cholera, beri-beri, malaria and parasitism plagued the country, and Pampanga was not spared. In 1902, a severe cholera hit almost all the municipalities of the province, causing thousands of deaths. Then, in 1918, dengue fever reached Pampanga, part of a global pandemic. That same year, southern Pampanga was hit by smallpox and it was said that the casualties were so great that the tolling of bells was prohibited so as not to cause further alarm.

With such grave threats, Americans went on a vigorous campaign to educate Filipinos, introducing massive public health programs to improve their personal hygiene, sanitation practices and social conduct. Through intensified disciplining of the native’s bodily custom and habit, American physicians believed that Filipinos might eventually become capable of self-rule.

Public health services initially depended on army doctors until civilians—including American teachers—came along. They organized municipal and provincial health boards that initiated such projects as “Clean-Up Week”, setting up of toilets in railroad stations and inspection of boticas and livestock. As if their work is not enough, these personnel also had to supervise vaccinations all over the province.

Americans found willing help in Kapampangan doctors and medical professionals like Dr. Francisco Liongson, a prominent Spanish-trained physician who served as a member of the provincial health board. An artesian well program was also undertaken in 1906. The creation of new sources of fresh and clean water supply resulted in the drastic drop of the incidence of cholera. Leprosy, too, was completely eradicated in the province by 1909.

When the health boards were Filipinized during the Taft years, Kapampangan doctors efficiently ran the public health service programs. In 1912, with the reorganization of the Public Health Services (the future of Department of Health), Pampanga was divided into nine sanitary districts, headed by a physician. These exponents of health finally got themselves organized in 1933 when the Pampanga Medical Association was formed through the leadership of Pampanga’s most famous surgeon, Dr. Gregorio Singian.

In 1931, Pampanga inaugurated its own modern, 2-storey, 50 bed hospital. It was well equipped with an operating room and a laboratory. Another hospital, owned by the Pampanga Sugar Mills at Del Carmen, was established exclusively for its employees. With all these advancements, the health of Kapampangans considerably improved by 1932 with an average of 20.7 deaths reported per 1,000 population—compared to 27 in 1921. Infant mortality was down to 172.5 per 1,000—one of the lowest in the country-- as opposed to 372 in 1920.

Just two years later, in 1934, the Tydings-McDuffie Act was approved, finally promising self-government to Filipinos after a transitional period of 10 years. Could our improved health and revitalized constitution had something to do with it? If that were so, then indeed, health rules!

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