Brave Justin Max gets protected against deadly diseases in Tacloban
By Diana Valcárcel, Communication Projects Coordinator, UNICEF
TACLOBAN, 27 November 2013–It's nice to see life trying to get back to normal here in Tacloban. In the streets, debris and garbage is being collected, shops and banks start opening, there is heavy traffic, tricycles moving around and women selling fruit in the streets.
But the busiest places yesterday in the city were the evacuation centres where children were being vaccinated against measles and polio and given vitamin A to strengthen their immune system.
The Philippine Government in collaboration with UNICEF and WHO launched a vaccination campaign targeting 33,000 children under five in Tacloban to prevent the outbreak of disease after Typhoon Yolanda hit the Philippines nearly three weeks ago now. The first phase started in around 40 evacuation centres and will be doing outreach in the following days. We want all children to be protected from deadly diseases.
At the Rizal evacuation centre that used to be a school and now is the home for 3,000 people, Maria May is happy and 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 Jerzel, one year old, and gives her hand to Justin Max, three years old. Maria May found out about the vaccination campaign by the barangay (village) council.
The vaccination campaign will go on for a few more days. Apart from being vaccinated against polio and measles and receiving vitamin A, children are also being screened for malnutrition and registered.
"The local NGOs and the communities have been so enthusiastic," said Heather Papowitz, UNICEF Senior 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. Under the circumstances with all the challenges we have, it went well because of everyone's involvement."
Yesterday, the Philippine Red Cross, who is partnering with UNICEF and was in charge of the Rizal evacuation centre, vaccinated 791 children against measles, 1,032 against polio and 833 received vitamin A.
It's always heartbreaking to see children crying when the syringe pierces their arms but it was amazing to see that not even one tear fell from little Justin Max's eyes when it was his turn. I had the impression he knew it was something important and he needed to be strong.
Things haven't been easy in Maria May's life. "My house is totally damaged," she said. "The only thing I would like is to have a home again and not having 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 set up at the entrance of the Rizal evacuation centre. Today, when I passed by I was happy to see that they have set up a much bigger tent, so many more children can play and be with their peers. Being vaccinated and healthy is a priority but having the children in safe spaces where they can play and be with their friends is also important.
There is so much to do in Tacloban. So many people have thanked UNICEF for supporting them in so many ways. They will need your support in the long term so that children like Justin Max can look forward to a future of school, home and health.