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Bringing TB care closer to people: Chest X-ray goes to Manila markets

Manila Markets

From dawn to dusk, vendors Jonathan and Josefina brave the daily grind of market life at the Obrero Public Market in Sta. Cruz, Manila.

“Bawal magkasakit (We should not get sick),” said Jonathan, 52-year old meat vendor. But the demands of their trade make it impossible for them to go for annual check-up visits to doctors.

Hence, when the Manila Health Department announced the arrival of a mobile clinic for free chest X-ray scans in Manila Public Markets as part of the TB in the Workplace initiative, Jonathan and Josephine took the chance to know the status of their lung health. The deployment of mobile chest X-ray vans is part of a concerted effort to find and treat as many individuals as possible who are presumptive of tuberculosis (TB), especially in the workplace settings.

With the help of the Department of Health (DOH) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), mobile chest X-ray vans have been equipped with an artificial intelligence (AI) software that is able to detect presumptive TB cases in as little as five minutes.

Manila Health Department DOH and USAID
Manila Health Department, DOH and USAID assists Manila residents in filling out the form.

“The COVID-19 pandemic greatly affected our local TB program. We are now trying to bounce back by bringing these TB services like chest X-ray screening closer to where Manila residents are,” said Dr. Julieta Recidoro, head of the Office of TB Control and Prevention Division of the Manila Health Department.

“Collaboration with the Manila local government unit and workplaces such as public market networks is vital so employees will not just have access to free chest X-rays but also to ensure that their workplace is a healthy place. Hence, we can push them to be fit for work, fit to work, and fit at work,” Dr. Recidoro added.

“It was surprising that there is a health project like this. This is a good example of reaching the unreached,” said Josefina, 74, president of the Obrero Market Vendors’ Association. “If found to have TB, we could immediately start the treatment and prevent the spread of TB in the family.”

Jonathan had a relative who died of TB. But he was motivated to get the free chest X-ray scan because he is a self-confessed heavy smoker. Five minutes after they had their screening, Jonathan and Josephine found that they were not presumptive of TB. Jonathan found the whole service as “hassle-free.” “I would encourage other vendors to get this free service,” he said.

The task to encourage vendors and stall owners at Obrero Public Market fell on the shoulders of market supervisors Ruth Almodovar and Claire Nuguit. At first, Claire thought it would be challenging to invite vendors to get their free chest X-ray scans. “But many lined up for the free service. Even non-vendors wanted to avail of the chest X-ray scan,” said Claire.

Manila residents support the free mobile chest x-ray scan
Manila residents support the free mobile chest x-ray scan

Close coordination among stakeholders is key to the success of this health project. According to Dr. Maria Lourdes Barrameda, regional area manager of USAID’s TB Innovations and Health Systems Strengthening Project: “It is important to really plan together with the local government unit (LGU) and the DOH because just making these mobile chest x-ray vans available onsite is only one part of the whole package.”

On May 23, about 100 vendors from Obrero Market received their free chest X-ray scans. Of these, 21 were found presumptive of TB and they were immediately requested to have their sputum submitted. If confirmed with TB via this test, they would be enrolled for treatment immediately.

The mobile chest X-ray van also went to Dagonoy Market, San Andres Market, Paco Market, Sta.Ana Market, Pritil, Wagas, Basilio, Pampanga, Bambang, Quinta, Aranque, Trabajo Sampaloc, Baseco, Central Market, and Divisoria Market.

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