The Official Publication of Volunteer Youth Leaders for Health - Philippines

A Journey through Life

Feature Article submitted in celebration of the 2010 Newborn Screening Week.

Who would have thought that at this very young age of mine I would be able to help other people in a very simple way? Well, it might be destiny. Some people might say that volunteerism and advocating is a heck of a thing but for me, it is PASSION, SERVICE and a sense of being HUMAN.

I am Gian Carlo Zambrano-Abellana, 21 years of age, VYLH Founding Member from Mindanao and a Newborn Screening Advocate.

Some might wonder what Newborn Screening is? Well for the benefit of those who doesn’t know what it is, NBS is a simple procedure to find if your baby has a congenital metabolic disorder that may lead to mental retardation or even death if left untreated. There are five disorders included in the Philippine Newborn Screening Program which are chosen because of the prevalence among Filipinos namely: Congenital Hypothyroidism(CH), Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia(CAH), Galactosemia(GAL), Phenylketonuria(PKU) and Glucose-6 Phosphate Dehydrogenase Deficiency(G6PD). NBS is an important test because metabolic disorders look “normal” at birth. As such by doing NBS, treatment can be given at an early stage to prevent any consequences of untreated conditions. It is ideally done on the 48th-72nd hour of life. However it may be done 24 hours from birth. A few drops of blood are taken from the baby’s heel, blotted on a special absorbent filter card (Guthrie Paper) and then sent to Newborn Screening Center (NSC). All throughout the archipelago today, NBS are made to be available in Hospitals, Lying-ins, Rural Health Units and Health Centers. In the Philippines the implementation of NBS is governed by law which is under Republic Act 9288 otherwise known as the Newborn Screening Act of 2004.

This strong drive of mine to promote NBS started after I attended the 1st Volunteer Youth Leaders for Health-PHILIPPINES National Camp in Tagaytay last July 2009. It was participated by 74 volunteer youth leaders from 20 colleges and universities, 23 university-based organizations and 13 community-based organizations all over the country. VYLH-PHILIPPINES is a network of pro-active, service-oriented, empowering and visionary leaders equipped with knowledge and skills in mobilizing the youth towards a healthy Philippines. Newborn Screening is just one of the spearheaded advocacies of VYLH-PHILIPPPINES.

There are questions as to why we the youth are making this advocacy? Well that is because, the youth sector comprising almost one-third of the country's population, is now recognized as one of the key players in the Philippine society. Records show that in 1995, 18 million women around the world were within reproductive ages (15-49). It was projected to increase to 30 million by 2020. Furthermore, statistics show that youth constitutes majority of the women in reproductive age. Increasing awareness among the youth particularly those in the reproductive age is a crucial strategy towards reduction of deaths and complications from preterm births. Preparing future parents while they are still young will greatly help in the fight against one of the leading causes of infant mortality. Educating people on how to take good care of their bodies and their offspring must start at an early age. It is even more crucial for women that they learn to achieve good health while they are still young. Maintaining good health during their reproductive years can prevent negative effects during pregnancy and the baby‘s health.

If I were to compare it to a battle, the famous “Pink Brochures” are my weapons. Everything on it says it all. It just depends on how you get your audience's attention and put a mark on their lives. Great charisma is indeed needed everywhere I go. I have tried posting NBS posters even to rural areas during my Community Health Nursing Exposure way back in College and distribute almost a thousand brochures to people from different walks of life. I have tried talking to people and advocating even inside public utility vehicles. It may be of great shame at first, but at the end what matters most is the accomplishment to touch others lives and to save future babies from mental retardation. I have also participated in the conduct of Mother's Class sessions in OB wards in different hospitals, both private and public, as well as to mothers during their pre-natal visit in their Community Health Centers. These are just few of the things that I did as part of this great endeavor of mine.

What strikes me is when I get to see mothers who are at the low socio-economic status of life. I think it is my responsibility to encourage them to screen their child yet the question is how would they afford to do it if even they get to eat only once a day or even starve for nothing to eat. It may be a heart breaking scenario but it is REALITY.  But good to know that there are kind-hearted people who sponsor indigents to screen their babies and the local government and barangays are doing such programs in order to provide babies with NBS.

Today, as we all celebrate the Newborn Screening Week may all us be inspired to continue living our dreams to save the lives of millions of babies from mental retardation or even death brought about by any means of congenital metabolic disorders. It only takes a drop of blood to save a life. SCREEN YOUR BABIES NOW!

*Gian Carlo Abellana is a licensed nurse and graduate of the Father Saturnino Urios University (FSUU) in Butuan City, Agusan del Norte.During his stay at FSUU, Gian had a TV appearance/interview for TV Patrol Caraga (ABS-CBN CARAGA) during the conduct of the NBS Awareness Week in Butuan last August 2009.  


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