In Tacloban, vaccination campaign takes aim at deadly diseases
By Diana Valcárcel
A vaccination campaign launched by the Philippines Government together with UNICEF and WHO has begun in Tacloban, to be expanded across the region hit hardest by Typhoon Haiyan.
TACLOBAN, Philippines, 27 November 2013 – In this city devastated nearly three weeks ago by the force of Typhoon Haiyan, debris and garbage are being collected, shops and banks are starting to open, the streets are heavy with traffic, and women are selling fruit by the roadsides. People are trying to get their lives back to normal.
But the busiest places yesterday were the evacuation centres, where children were being vaccinated against measles and polio and given vitamin A supplements for strengthening the immune system.
The Philippine Government, in collaboration with UNICEF and WHO, launched a vaccination campaign targeting 33,000 children under 5 in Tacloban to prevent the outbreak of disease. The first phase started in around 40 evacuation centres, and will be expanded in the coming days in order to reach all children and protect them from deadly diseases.
A collective effort
At the Rizal evacuation centre, a school that is now home for 3,000 people, Maria May is relieved that her children got vaccinated. "It comforts me, because I know that my children are now free from germs," she says while she cradles 1-year-old Jerzel and gives her hand to Justin Max, 3. Maria May found out about the vaccination campaign from her neighbourhood council. Apart from being vaccinated, children are also being screened for malnutrition.
"The local NGOs and the communities have been so enthusiastic," says Heather Papowitz, UNICEF Health in Emergencies Specialist. "I have never seen so many teams volunteering their car, their staff and their time to get things done. It has been amazing."
Yesterday at the Rizal evacuation centre, the Philippines Red Cross, a UNICEF partner, vaccinated 791 children against measles, 1,032 against polio and dispensed 833 vitamin A supplements.
It's always heartbreaking to see children cry when the syringe pierces their arm, but not even one tear fell from little Justin Max's eyes when it was his turn – as if he knew it was something important and he needed to be strong.
Still much to do
For his mother, things have not been easy. "My house is totally damaged," she says. "The only thing I would like is to have a home again, and not have to be in the evacuation centre. I am worried that children need to come back to school. Where will I go then?"
In the meantime, Maria May's children are benefitting from the child-friendly space that UNICEF has set up at the entrance to Rizal. A bigger tent has just been put up, so more children can play and be with their peers.
There is still much work to do in Tacloban. Many people have thanked UNICEF for supporting them. They will need our support for a long time still, so that kids like Justin Max can look forward to a future of school, home and health.
Newsline: Typhoon Haiyan