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In Philippines: An archipelago doctor who cared for 13,000 people alone 👩🏼‍⚕️

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Agutaya archipelago doctor Alena Yap cared for 13,000 people on her own, including 99-year-old Eleuthera Abus, who has a broken arm that has been six months since her fall.

The poor people of Diit, Philippines, have no access to surgical facilities because the nearest one is hundreds of miles away across the sea. Their only doctor, Dr Alena, wears a broad smile that masks quiet determination. Dr Alena arrived just before the coronavirus, and learned to live with death threats. She battled new diseases and old, and came up against her country's biggest challenges.

Dr Alena, a graduate of the country's top medical school, volunteered to join a government programme that sent her to one of the poorest municipalities in the country. Agutaya is a two-and-half day journey from Manila, including a flight and a sleepless 15-hour night crossing on an open-deck ferry.

Dr Alena made her first crossing to Agutaya in February 2020 and was in charge of enforcing their quarantine when the coronavirus sent the Philippines into a lockdown. She received death threats and people wanted to shoot her. Dr Alena was resented as a government enforcer and began adopting dogs to ease the loneliness. She also started drawing and spent a lot of time at the beach with them.

The next challenge emerged when the vaccines started to arrive in the summer of 2021. Despite the resistance, the vaccine rollout was successful, and only eight islanders across the archipelago had died of the virus.

Every weekday morning, a line forms outside the main clinic on Agutaya, and Dr Alena says it's difficult to get a nutritious diet here.

The doctor is extricating herself from the growing line of patients and has to get across to Diit, 40 minutes away by boat. she treats a boy with a hernia, which means part of his intestine has penetrated the bowel wall, pushing into his testicles. The boy's mother asks if she knows anyone who can stay with her on one of the bigger islands. Dr Alena's optimism and ambition have given way to the reality that resources - or money - will always be the biggest challenge.

Dr Alena returned to Agutaya last week and did minor surgeries in three hours, after taking off from Manila in a private plane funded by international donors.


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