THE oceanfront of Malatunglan, a remote village
along the eastern coast of the Philippines, the Dumagats await
the arrival of doctors and medical volunteers. As the ferry
boats begin to dock, the men form assembly lines, carrying
boxes of relief items and medicines. Help has finally come.
The Dumagats are
indigenous people who live in the mountains of Quezon Province.
When three storms successively pummeled Quezon in December
2004, heavy rains and strong winds loosened soil and caused
a catastrophic landslide. Many of the Dumagats lost their
homes and their loved-ones.
Two months after
the disaster, the Dumagats have started to rebuild their homes.
But many still need medical attention. UNICEF worked with
a local non-governmental organization, the Southern Tagalog
People’s Response Center (STPRC) to launch a relief
and medical mission in Quezon.
For Marisa, a 50-year
old mother, going to a hospital is more of dream than a reality.
“The nearest hospital is a seven-hour boat ride in treacherous
ocean water.” Today, she is relieved that the doctors
Jadylyn, 19, a
mother of two, wishes for medical personnel to come more often.
She has her patient registration document, folded and creased,
revealing the prescription: ferrous sulfate syrup 125 mg/5
ml elixir and amoxicillin 125 mg/5 ml suspension for her infant.
She feels that she can finally win the battle against her
child’s anaemia and pulmonary bacterial infection.
Francis Capalongan traveled all the way from Manila to give
free examination and write prescriptions for the residents
of Malatunglan. Other volunteers and pre-medicine students
became instant pharmacists, rummaging through boxes of medicines
and vitamins provided by UNICEF. Lists of anti-bacterial and
analgestics went on for pages.
When asked what
happens when medication is not available, Jadylyn looks at
her feet, whispering: “They die. Children often die.
There’s nothing we can do.” But when she gazes
at the thousands of bottles, tablets and packages of pills,
there seems comfort in knowing that help is here today.
and children may not know the difference between Paracetamol
and Albendazole, but they know that what we are doing makes
a difference. They know that people care about them,”
says a volunteer.
is written in the vernacular and explained to the patients.
The line of patients dwindles and the medical team sets out
for its next stop. Thermometers, bottles of isopropyl alcohol
and bags of cotton disappear from sight, into the boxes again.
How many times
was the blood pressure cuff wrapped around skinny arms? Patients
look expectantly at the apparatus, wanting their blood pressure
to be normal. And although normal is variable, it still matters
that patient number 25 is 120/80. That patient number 134
These numbers indeed
matter. They give the Dumagats a sense of certainty, a semblance
of normalcy. At least, the numbers tell a concrete story.
If life can’t be better, the Dumagats are simply wishing
that life can be normal again.