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Unilab Foundation Leadership Journey Alumni provide solution to gap in maternal health in Samar

“I want to create a system and make sure everything is in place and working seamlessly, so that healthcare will remain accessible even if I leave the island,” Dr. Abiertas said.

Four donated sea ambulances to help improve island referral system in the municipality of Zumarraga


“Our aim is zero maternal deaths this year and beyond,” said Katerina Abiertas, MD, an alumna of the 2nd batch of the Unilab Foundation Leadership Journey (LJ). She is the Municipal Health Officer and sole doctor of Zumarraga, Samar, a fifth class island municipality located an hour’s ferry ride away from Catbalogan, Samar’s capital.


For an island where no single road connects its 25 barangays, that aim was a distant dream for a long time. Zumarraga has four health stations that service five barangays each, and a municipal health center (MHC) in the poblacion that also services five barangays. The latter is also the only health facility on the island with an accredited birthing facility.


But Dr. Abiertas has found a way to improve maternal health outcomes, with the help of her LJ batchmates who call themselves Team Bakhaw (which means “mangrove tree” in Filipino). Last March 13, the team officially handed over four donated sea ambulances to the municipal government of Zumarraga, Samar during their 152nd Foundation Day celebration.


The cost of transport has always been a major barrier to patients seeking medical help, according to Rosario de Alergria, long-time midwife in Moalboal, a barangay in Zumarraga. The sea ambulances are meant to help address this, as part of a larger project spearheaded by LJ Batch 2 alumni to improve access to maternal health care and services in the island. The comprehensive plan includes land and sea transfers; steady fund generation through PhilHealth claims; and LGU involvement in terms of support and accountability.


The sea ambulances are the first phase; trikes modified to accommodate a woman lying down comfortably will be given to the barangay health stations during the second phase. The two modes of transport are meant to close the gap in terms of patient transfer.


The project is overseen by Dr. Abiertas, who has been working on improving the island referral system post-LJ. Her batchmate Ronald Paraan, MD, who runs the Luke Foundation, helped fund the initial phase of their batch project.


“I want to create a system and make sure everything is in place and working seamlessly, so that healthcare will remain accessible even if I leave the island,” Dr. Abiertas said. We salute Dr. Abiertas and others like her, who are improving healthcare in the Philippines, one community at a time.

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