Supporting Most Vulnerable Children to Fight Malnutrition in Southern Leyte
UNICEF and partners continue to help ensure proper nutrition for children affected by Typhoon Odette
Lolita and her husband, Enjie, are a loving couple from Maasin Municipality, Southern Leyte in the Philippines. They work hard to support their two children, especially their three-year old son, Omar, who has cerebral palsy. Omar’s medication and medical tests are expensive, so Lolita helps Enjie, a construction worker, to earn extra income by making barbecue sticks at home from bamboo. However, mounting expenses prevent the couple from taking Omar for his regular checkup.
The family’s difficulties worsened when Super Typhoon Rai – known locally as Odette – devastated the Visayas and Mindanao Regions in the Philippines in December 2021. “By 3 p.m. our neighbor told us to evacuate because Typhoon Odette was declared at signal no. 5,” Lolita said. “She was concerned because there was a coconut tree beside our house that might fall on us. At around 4 p.m., we were all soaking wet as we ran to the evacuation center. That’s how Omar got pneumonia. We were supposed to take him for a checkup but we weren’t able to travel right away because there was a landslide that blocked the road.”
When they finally made it to the rural health unit, Omar’s parents were told that the boy needed to be seen by a specialist. They had to wait another week until a vacant slot was available for Omar to be admitted at a government hospital in Tacloban City, which was a four-hour drive from Southern Leyte.
“We didn’t expect these things to happen because of Odette,” Lolita said. “Omar was wet and shivering. We could only stay at the evacuation center because our house was damaged. We had to work on repairing our roof before we could do anything else.”
By the time they got to the hospital in January 2022, Omar had completely lost his appetite, and due to his seizure disorder, a nasogastric tube (NGT) had to be inserted through his nose to feed him and to prevent food from going back up from the stomach to the lungs.
“Omar was wet and shivering. We could only stay at the evacuation center because our house was damaged. We had to work on repairing our roof before we could do anything else.”
Lolita was anxious over her son’s health, as well as the medical expenses that were piling up. She had no idea that Omar would deteriorate to the point of malnourishment after a few months. She found this out only after she brought him to a community health screening in May through a health and nutrition project funded by UNICEF and implemented by Samaritan’s Purse. The program is aimed at supporting communities impacted by Typhoon Odette.
“I heard they were screening children in our barangay hall, so I went,” Lolita said. “I did not bring Omar because it was hot that day. I thought it was okay to use the measurements from Omar’s previous checkup.”
Lolita assumed that it was normal for Omar to be lighter than other children given his preexisting condition, and that his previous record would not have changed. She said that the nutrition drink prescribed for him should have improved his diet. However, Lolita was informed that Omar’s current measurements had to be taken in order to get the accurate assessment of his status, so she brought him in despite the challenge of transporting him with his NGT. It was then that Lolita learned that Omar had moderate acute malnutrition (MAM), a condition that could worsen to a life-threatening severe acute malnutrition (SAM) if not addressed.
“When we saw the patient, he was weak-looking, moderately dehydrated, with crackles all over his lung fields signifying that he had pneumonia,” Dr. Archie Acala of Samaritan’s Purse said. “I advised the parents that he should be admitted as he needed prompt monitoring and treatment.”
“When we saw the patient, he was weak-looking, moderately dehydrated, with crackles all over his lung fields signifying that he had pneumonia. I advised the parents that he should be admitted as he needed prompt monitoring and treatment.”
Dr. Acala observed that the parents were worried about not being able to afford hospital admission for their son, but eventually decided to do it with some encouragement. “We prescribed and gave them the necessary medications he needed, advised on proper hydration and nutrition, temperature monitoring, and what medications to avoid as Omar had MAM,” Dr. Acala said.
Lolita received the medicine and micronutrient powder packets from the medical team and began Omar’s rehabilitation. Barangay health worker Arlene, who was trained through the project, supported Lolita in monitoring Omar’s condition. After four weeks of daily administration of the micronutrient powder with his meal, Omar gained more than half a kilogram and attained normal status.
The team visited the family at home to check on Omar and give more recommendations for his care. “We continued to see him weekly, and we gradually saw an improvement to his health,” Dr. Acala said.
“We’re so grateful that Dr. Archie came to us,” Lolita said. “We did not have to go to the hospital for Omar to get checked. Transportation costs so much. Dr. Archie gave us advice that helped Omar breathe easier, and on what to do in case of seizures. He reminded us to sit Omar up instead of having him lie down on the floor all the time. He also said that we can have the NGT taken off if Omar showed signs that he could swallow on his own.”
This last advice helped Lolita feel at ease when Omar inadvertently pulled out the NGT on his own a few nights later. Feeding him soft food became easier since then, and his condition got even better. By the end of June, Omar could already lift his arms, which he could not do before.
“We did not have to go to the hospital for Omar to get checked. Transportation costs so much. Dr. Archie gave us advice that helped Omar breathe easier, and on what to do in case of seizures. He reminded us to sit Omar up instead of having him lie down on the floor all the time. He also said that we can have the NGT taken off if Omar showed signs that he could swallow on his own.”
UNICEF’s program also led to more support to pour in after a concerned neighbor posted a photo on social media of Lolita and Omar taken from the screening activity at the barangay hall. Financial donations started coming in, which the family was able to use to sustain Omar’s medication. One donor provided a stroller, which allows Omar to sit up for longer periods instead of keeping him lying down on their bamboo-slatted floor.
Lolita is also grateful for the disinfection kit from UNICEF, which helps safeguard her family against COVID-19. “We don’t have to worry about repeatedly buying facemasks when we go out,” she said. “Facemasks and alcohol are so expensive!”
Despite their hardships, Lolita’s resolve remains strong, even as she reflected on her family’s situation in tears. “Sometimes we can’t help but ask ourselves why we had to go through this with our child when we are so poor to begin with,” she said. “But we’re still thankful we have him. We will still work hard to raise our family. And we’re so grateful because even in our situation, we have Ate Arlene from the barangay, and we have organizations like yours that are willing to help us even when we’re so far away.” #