Who is a barrio doctor

A few days ago, while mentoring junior medical interns doing their community medicine rotation, I received a text message from a fellow doctor-blogger. It wasn’t good news.

Jim pls check out FB and twitter another DTTB killed

Still reeling from the impact of the yet-unresolved killing of Dr. Dreyfuss Perlas, who graduated from the Doctors to the Barrios program one year after I did, I barely managed to keep my composure as I excused myself and caught up with the news. It turned out that the victim was Dr. Jaja Sinolinding, brother of DOH-ARMM secretary Dr. Kadil Sinolinding Jr. Dr. Jaja and his security escort were shot Tuesday morning, 18 April, by a gunman who had pretended to be a patient in his Cotabato clinic.

Notably, as news about the tragedy spread through news and social media, Dr. Jaja was tagged by DOH Secretary Dr. Paulyn Ubial as a “barrio doctor.”

Strictly speaking, at the time of his murder, he wasn’t part of the DOH Doctors to the Barrios program. He was an ophthalmologist who chose to establish his practice in Cotabato instead of putting up shop in more affluent areas in the country. His death has shown that the risks of serving the underserved do not only affect physicians who have chosen to join the Doctors to the Barrios program, nor those who became municipal health officers or rural doctors. It affects all health professionals, regardless of one’s specialty, as long as one has chosen to unflinchingly stand up for what is right.

Notwithstanding, in my opinion, amid the horrific circumstances of his supreme sacrifice and despite his specialist affiliation, Dr. Jaja has affirmed what it really takes to be a “barrio doctor.”

By choosing to put up practice in the provinces, he shared in the commitment to provide care to the underserved, despite the risk. Dr. Jaja provided free consultation services, and, as affirmed by people who worked with him in Cotabato, was a well-loved doctor.

By choosing to consider medicine as service and not a means for personal profit, he shared in the commitment to ensure that health is accessible to all.

Finally, by choosing to serve despite existing threats, he exhibited unparalleled courage.

Definitely, he was a barrio doctor.

A barrio doctor who, along with Dr. Perlas, deserves swift justice.

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