The French connection | Inquirer Opinion
In the Pink of Health

The French connection

Who we are. What we do.

It was an acquaintance party of two organizations. One, a local pediatric subspecialty society, and the other, an international foundation. Each composed of individuals with diverse backgrounds; it was an experience to have been given an opportunity to collaborate, participate and witness a borderless “communion of spirit” borne out by the realization that we were brought together and united to be movers, steadfast in remaining a constant in the fight against infectious diseases.

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Listening ran a very close second to the visuals as the group — mostly managers of national immunization programs from different local government units in the country, admixed with scientists, past and current administrative national government health officials, pediatric and adult infectious diseases specialists, and clinicians — was introduced to the heart and soul of Mérieux Foundation, an independent organization committed to fighting infectious diseases in developing countries. Three things stood out: their noble goals, the clarity of purpose, and the structured symphony of resources that fine-tune their operations.

The Pediatric Infectious Disease Society of the Philippines was more than fortunate to have been recognized and chosen to be a working partner. The Mérieux Foundation generously furnished the essential framework to make the symposium a reality. Moreover, they provided us the necessary latitude to craft the scientific program, target key stakeholders, create a safe space for knowledge sharing, and encourage open and grounded discussions which encompassed existing challenges and workable strategies to improve healthcare delivery to the grassroots level, with a special focus on immunization. Finally, aside from the medical community, we were expanding our sphere of influence where we wanted it most.

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Grassroots. As one participant personally shared, this is the operative word. Despite numerous activities employing continuing medical education amongst health and allied health care professionals through lectures, vaccinology courses, and regular townhall meetings geared toward informing and equipping the community about the benefits of immunization, the reality of suffering from unintended effects not only of COVID but of vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles still has not penetrated the consciousness of the general public, not only in rural but highly urbanized areas as well. Setting aside the obvious logistics required such as available and adequate funding, manpower, supplies, and a realistic program plan tailored to the needs of a particular population, there is an overwhelming and basic need to recognize and accept the capacity and the extent to which an individual may be able to fully comprehend the situation. It drives home the fact that as experts in the field of immunization we may have to work harder at communicating the message, and in a language that anyone can comprehend. Citing statistics provides little benefit to one grappling with how the disease may impact his life and that of the public as well.

Part of the symposium was an interactive workshop on communicating effectively.

A former BBC broadcaster and currently a media affairs consultant zeroed in on key points that were not only easy to remember but were practical and at times also served as “AHA“ moments. At the beginning of the session, we were asked how best we wanted to be perceived by the public as ambassadors of vaccination. It was expected that the words “credible,” an “authority,” and “trustworthy” would come up. She shared that if we want to appear credible and authoritative, it is important not only to look confident but convey confidence both through verbal and nonverbal cues. Analyzing the three words, in my mind, the first two would be highly achievable if one diligently works at it. What might more be of a challenge is to prove one to be trustworthy for it inevitably speaks of one’s track record and one’s sincerity.

To the Mérieux Foundation, your team and your body of work serve as the needed inspiration that together, we can do something to make a difference. Merci beaucoup!

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