Photo source: USAID
Dr. Leda Hernandez, the Division Chief of the Infectious Disease Office in the National Center for Disease Prevention and Control of the Philippines Department of Health (DOH), is responsible for the control and elimination of several neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). These diseases include lymphatic filariasis (LF), schistosomiasis, soil-transmitted helminthiasis (STH) and food and water-borne diseases (FWBD).
Dr. Hernandez joined the DOH in 1994, following her graduation from medical school. Her first assignment was to head the Lymphatic Filariasis Control Program. At that time, the program had limited resources and little support from the government. Dr. Leda, as she is fondly called, has guided the LF elimination program with patience and perseverance, providing confident, committed support to the large network of regional LF coordinators across the country, who are her direct line to the millions of Filipinos at risk for NTDs.
The job has not always been easy. She recalls the first time a bad reaction to a treatment was reported to her. It was nighttime when the regional coordinator called, and she had been cooking dinner for her family. As she ran out the door to get better cellphone reception, she forgot to turn off one of the burners, which ended up causing a small kitchen fire! Thankfully, both the patient with the bad reaction and her own family successfully survived the experience.
Since then, she has overcome many challenges and found solutions to a wide range of issues faced by the regional coordinators, from bad reactions to the treatments, to dealing with inadequate drug supplies, the complicated logistics of mass treatment, the reluctance of local government units to participate, and occasional resistance from people who don’t want to take the drugs.
Dr. Leda’s perseverance has achieved much progress for the program. As of December 2013, 19 out of 43 endemic provinces in the Philippines have reached the criteria to stop LF treatment, and six more are expected to join them later this year, followed by another six in 2015. Moreover, the government now puts its full weight and resources behind the control and elimination programs for LF, schistosomiasis, STH and FWBDs. While the country is still in the early days of mass treatment for schistosomiasis and STH, the DOH is confident that Dr. Leda’s experience in managing the LF elimination program will help her navigate these other diseases with equal success.