Health Fair Asserts the Basic Human Right of Filipino Migrant Workers

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UPMASA-DAMAYAN Partnership Successfully Met the Needs of Filipinos from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut

New York, NY - On Sunday, June 3rd, Filipino doctors of the University of the Philippines Medical Alumni Society in America (UPMASA) and members of DAMAYAN Migrant Workers Association spearheaded a collaboration to bridge community health disparities by linking highly skilled professionals and marginalized domestic workers through Ang Kalusugan ay Karapatang Pang-tao (Health is a Basic Human Right) Health Fair. Over 150 individuals availed of the free services.

"We are excited about this project," stated Dr. Lou Publico, President-elect of the NY-NJ-CT UPMASA Chapter, "We hope to respond to the needs of our kababayans [compatriots] who may have difficulty in basic health screening services."

The health fair included the services of US Wellness - coordinated by Dr. Luchi Fonacier - and spanned three booths along Madison Avenue, between 25th and 26th Street. The Philippine Independence Day Council, Inc. waived the booth registration fee in the spirit of serving the Filipino American community. Additional services and labor were provided by students from the NYU School of Dentistry, NYU School of Medicine student William Jalbuena Scheerer, Harlem Breast Center and Ugnayan ng mga Anak ng Bayan / Linking the Children of the Motherland. The health screening included: body mass index to determine relative obesity, blood pressure, glucose, oral cancer check, appointments for mammogram and pap smear, on-site breast exam demonstration, and one-on-one doctor consultation. UPMASA, led by National President Dr. Benny Jongco, showed up in full force with 15 doctors who interpreted screening results and advised participants. Drs. Jovienia Celo, Nanette Jongco, Melissa Young and Guillermo and Normie Narvaez solicited giveaways, including glucometers. Health literature from the NYC Department of Health were generously distributed to those who completed the screenings and other street fair attendees.

Maribeth Bautista, DAMAYAN Board Member, commented on the health professionals' invaluable contribution. "Many of our members rely on the free health fairs such as today's because we cannot afford health insurance."

There are an estimated 200,000 domestic workers in New York City - at least 30,000 are Filipinos. About 95% of Filipino domestic workers do not have health insurance. In response, DAMAYAN launched the LUNAS: Filipino Migrant Workers Holistic Health Program in 2005 to address the severe health crisis of Filipino domestic workers. The LUNAS Program aims to heal the community one worker at a time, through education and organizing; it aims to provide for the domestic workers basic health needs combined with the necessary information and skills to navigate the healthcare system. Collaborative health fairs are part of DAMAYAN's LUNAS Program. Lunas, which means "heal" in Tagalog, is partially supported by the New York Women's Foundation.

"Events like today are critical for many of us who do not know how to access services or are afraid to ask about free services because of our immigration status," added Bautista. "Many of us suffer from high blood pressure, high cholesterol and are predisposed to diabetes. This is a result of not just bad eating habits but also of our conditions as oppressed migrant women workers." Filipino domestic workers in the US are part of the 10 million overseas Filipinos who have been forced to leave their families in the Philippines in search of higher income. The survival of their family depends on the sacrifices and exploited labor of migrant workers. Thus, Filipino domestic workers have stressful lifestyles that lead to poor health. The partnership with UPMASA pools the best health professionals in the local Filipino community and connects those who have the most urgent need, like the Filipino migrant workers.

While the Philippine government and US government both benefit from the $19 billion dollars in remittances and cheap labor provided to American families, government resources allocated to address the dismal health situation of Filipino migrant workers are scarce. "We understand that our poor health is linked to the deteriorating health of our families and homeland. In partnering with UPMASA and organizing 'Ang Kalusugan Ay Karapatang Pang-tao', we are affirming our right to have a life with dignity and good health - including the physical, social and economic wellness of our kababayan back home."

"We are happy to have successfully conducted the event," said Publico. "We look forward to nurturing collaborative relationships with organizations who are devoted to the cause of Filipino health.."