Going Far, Together
Our Partners for Immunization in the Philippines
In my years of working on immunization, I am always left in awe of the collaboration and partnerships when it comes to ensuring a healthy future for every child – especially in bringing them life-saving vaccines.
I was reminded of this when I embarked on a 5-day mission in the Philippines with Dr. Ephrem Lemango, Chief of Immunization at UNICEF and Andrew Jones, Principal Adviser at the UNICEF Supply Division Vaccines Centre, to see for ourselves the realities of the country’s immunization programme and the health systems. Let me share some highlights of our trip:
Barangay health workers are superheroes
Here, we are listening to the stories told by Barangay Health Workers (BHWs). One of them said that two of the biggest challenges they face when going on house-to-house visits to mobilise caregivers to get their children vaccinated are unpredictable weather and territorial village dogs. While it was said in a humourous way, it highlighted the challenges they face on a daily basis, risking contracting rabies, a fatal disease on its own.
BHWs play a big role in mobilizing parents and caregivers to have their children vaccinated in the Philippines. The BHWs of Plaridel, Bulacan welcomed us with big smiles, and sent us off with the same warmth. They treat their community members like family. In return, they are rewarded with camaraderie and trust. This dynamic is the impetus that keeps them going in their roles inspite of the fact that they are not remunerated, but only receive some incentives.
Steadfast support from leadership matters
In a country such as the Philippines where delivery of health services is decentralized, local leadership support is invaluable. Municipal Mayor Jocell Aimee Vistan-Casaje of Plaridel, Bulacan spoke to us about their “Ugoy, Haplos at Aruga (Cuddle, Touch and Care)” Program or “UHA”. In Filipino, “Uha” is the sound of an infant’s first cry. The UHA program is an integrated family planning, maternal, neonatal, and child health and nutrition programme that supports first-time mothers, allowing health workers to track them to ensure that their newborns receive the needed routine vaccines.
A Legacy that Reverberates through the Years
The Baseco Compound in the City of Manila was one of the pilot areas of the Reaching Every Purok1 (REP) strategy in 2017, a community-based approach supported by UNICEF to improve immunization coverage. This urban poor community was prone to measles outbreak before but according to the BHWs trained under REP, they were able to maintain the ideal coverage even during the COVID-19 pandemic. Like the BHWs in Bulacan, they have grown to be trusted household names and partners in the community.
Young trailblazers leading the way
Young, dynamic representatives of Galing LNC, San Pedro College – Volunteer Service Provider, and One Western Visayas took us through their outreach efforts when they joined #KaBayanihan Youth Challenge COVID-19 vaccination and mass immunization for children.
They thought that their efforts were only small and “cute”, but we think otherwise. Their joint efforts reached about 1.3 million people, which included more than 200,000 vaccine-eligible individuals, with important messages on immunization. With guidance and the right set of tools, it was shown that the youth are a force to be reckoned with and dynamic collaborators in reaching the most vulnerable.
By the way, they taught us their signature “Giordano pose.” Are we, the oldies, blending in well?
All hands on deck
This is Dr. Romel Lacson, U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US-CDC) Country Director, explaining possible areas of investment where US-CDC can add value. Listening intently is Mr. Lawrence Trinidad, Project Manager of the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines (ULAP). Like us, he is a firm believer of strong local government participation in immunization programme.
This was during a small gathering of some partners from the Immunization Summit held in August this year that brought together multi-sectoral representatives whoalso want to put an end to the zero-dose crisis in the Philippines.
Witnessing these collaborations and partnerships in person, including tapping into the potential of the youth in the Philippines, gives me hope and optimism that the country has all that is necessary to overcome the challenges in reaching every child with life-saving vaccines.