Doctor from the barrio to the world

Mari-An C. Santos

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Doctor from the barrio to the world

GETTING OUTDOORS. Dr. Dante Salvador (2nd from left) during a weekend trip with fellow members of the UP Alumni Association-Switzerland.


Filipino doctor Dante Salvador overcomes financial obstacles to pursue his passion for medicine and public health, in the Philippines and abroad

MANILA, Philippines – “For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be a doctor,” Dr. Dante Salvador said. “I knew I wanted to help people.”

Salvador was born in Urdaneta, Pangasinan, the eldest of five children of a taxi driver and one-time carinderia (food stall) owner. His parents were upfront with the aspiring doctor that they could not financially support his medical education.

“I told them it was okay, I would find the means. All I wanted was for them to support my decision,” Salvador said in an exclusive interview with Rappler last May.

After graduating from the University of the Philippines with a degree in biology, he went on to complete his medical degree from UP Manila, supported by scholarships from UP College of Medicine, a pharmaceutical company, and Bagong Doktor para sa Bayan.

“An aunt in the USA financially supported my undergraduate education. From then until I completed my PhD, I was funded by various scholarships. So, all of my education, someone else was financially responsible,” Salvador said.

male, lamp, mic, tools, black board, Doctor from Barrio to the world
REPRESENTING PINAS. Dr. Dante Salvador during one of his research presentations. Handout
Finding his ‘why’

It was while serving in the Department of Health’s Doctors to the Barrios program when he had an epiphany. He was working as municipal health officer in San Roque (named after the patron of the sick and especially, of plagues and epidemics) in Northern Samar, managing the municipal health
system for a population of 25,000 by overseeing a team of less than 20 medical practitioners to serve them. Daily, he dealt with the question of how to implement various public health programs and projects with a limited budget.

“It was the most professionally rewarding experience I have had: receiving gratitude from people you know can never pay you back!” Salvador continued: “That’s when I realized that I didn’t have to come in direct contact with patients to help them. I could move policy and make an even bigger impact on the lives of fellow Filipinos.”

In 2015, after applying to different scholarship programs, Salvador started a Master’s degree in Public Health through the Erasmus Mundus program. The program, which is celebrating its 20th year, is supported by the European Union and offers fully-funded Masters degrees.

“It added value to my medical education and experience. I learned how to use different tools and the multicultural environment broadened my perspective on solving public health problems.” He earned degrees from Jagiellonian University in Poland and University of Sheffield in the UK.

Upon his return to the Philippines, Salvador worked as a consultant for government- and NGO-funded research projects with health economics and financing as his niche. He was able to use course materials from his graduate education directly to move the needle in the sector, since health economics and financing are relatively young subfields. He also taught related modules at the University of the Philippines and Development Academy of the Philippines.

He is especially proud of their research on alcohol tax modeling, which they presented at a hearing in the Senate. “I may not be helping individuals, but through my work, I helped reduce the ill health and economic effects of alcohol consumption,” he said.

Pursuing his passion

Salvador is an advocate of Health Technology Assessment (HTA), which is a multidisciplinary way to evaluate properties of health technologies and interventions. According to him, HTA is a more transparent framework for deciding what public health systems (like PhilHealth) should approve and
purchase. “We have limited finances but we have unlimited healthcare needs, so how do you smartly budget resources to maximize the total health of the population? It is a good way to assess which kinds of medication will be a good use of public money.”

In the Philippines, HTA is under the Department of Science and Technology.

Always finding ways to learn, after sending out applications to PhD opportunities, he finally, ironically, began his PhD in Health Sciences (Epidemiology and Biostatistics) in 2020. So, during the pandemic, he
was studying at the University of Bern in Switzerland.

In 2021, he co-founded the health industry consultancy firm CrunchLab Health Analytics Incorporated with friends, and has just started a research post at the European Center of Pharmaceutical Medicine at the University of Basel.

He won first place in the Clinical Research Prize at the Bern Cardiovascular Research Cluster Annual Meeting in 2021 for his work on the association between diabetes and myocardial fibrosis. In 2014, he was a finalist of the Study UK Alumni Awards.

Though he is now physically in Switzerland, Salvador continues to keep his feet planted in the Philippines. His commitment to their consulting firm is one evidence of this. He also maintains bonds with the Filipino community in Switzerland and all over Europe. He is glad to find sinigang (tamarind-based sour soup) mix for sale in Europe – so he can easily prepare his comfort food. For now, he is gaining as much knowledge, experience, and expertise at the university.

males, beer, umbrella, tables, drinks, doctor from barrio to the world
TAKING A BREAK. Dr Dante Salvador (right) with fellow Pinoys who are taking grad studies in Switzerland at their favorite beer garden in Bern.

“I’m resigned to the fact that no one will thank me in person for this work that I’m doing, but that’s not my motivation. This is my passion and I derive satisfaction from seeing that what I’m doing is causing a lot of positive change in the lives of people,” Salvador said. – Rappler.com

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