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Updated: July 22, 1990 05:00 PM GMT
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Herbal medicine has been accepted in rural areas of Leyte, eastern Visayas, because of poverty, a Benedictine sister says.

"It is accepted especially in the rural areas where poor people could hardly eat three square meals a day," said Sister Shirley Roble, coordinator of MAKAPWA (light giver), a community-based health program in the central Philippine archdiocese of Palo, Leyte, where at least 80 percent of the people are poor farmers.

Church workers help identify backyard plants which can be used as alternatives to expensive chemical-based drugs.

Juice from boiled lemon grass sweetened with sugar reportedly prevents diarrhea, the second highest cause of death among Filipinos.

The bark of the kalachuchi tree found in backyards all over the province is used in an ointment for scabies, common among rural children.

Tincture of garlic is used as an antiseptic, and a multi-vitamin syrup extracted from avocado leaves has an aroma and taste children like.

A young boy reportedly recovered from advanced stages of malnutrition after taking the herbal syrup.

In most places in the archdiocese medicinal plants have been a tradition, but knowledge of their uses and preparation has been limited, said Leticia Troyo, 46, a MAKAPWA herbalist.

She is one of a team which trains health workers to extract medicines from herbs. The health workers in turn teach mothers in villages to use herbal medicines.

Troyo believes in the effectiveness of herbal medicines because people keep coming back for them, especially in Church clinics for children under five.

"Lagundi," a herbal syrup for fever, cough, colds and asthma, costs 7.50 pesos (US$0.32) for 120 milliliters, while commercial drugs for the same conditions cost at least 25 pesos.

Ed Tamayo of the Drug Association of the Philippines says up to 11 billion pesos is spent on chemical drugs each year. More than 60 percent of drugs are reportedly sold by multinational companies, largely owned by Americans.

More than half of the 12,000 beneficiaries of the archdiocesan nutrition program suffer from second and third degree malnutrition.

-- Palo archdiocese covers all of eastern Visayas, except southern Leyte. 1988 records show the region was the third poorest in the country.

MAKAPWA was founded in 1975 by the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines in 11 poor areas of the archdiocese. From 16 paramedics, the program has grown and now operates in most Leyte towns. MAKAPWA workers are led by two doctors.


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