Albay, Philippines, November 9, 2011—At a health center in Barangay Buyuan in the northern part of Legaspi Cty, Nurse Marichu Diaz Mangampo and Merle Lopez of the Barangay Health Teams (BHTs) are eagerly welcomed by mothers with their infants. The nurses bring with them a small cooler filled with vaccines packed in ice, a defense against communicable but preventable childhood diseases.
Held tightly by their mothers, Marichu expertly pierces a child’s thigh or arm with a needle or squirts a dose of anti-polio serum in a baby’s mouth, delivering the antibodies they need for their safety in infancy. Some babies squeal in discomfort but their mothers smile and heave a sigh of relief. Their children are now safe from preventable ailments, and the vaccines and the service are all for free.
Merle and Marichu then take their cooler to nearby Barangay Binanuahan, to revisit homes they have missed in the Department of Health’s summer campaign to inoculate all children from ages nine months to eight years old against measles and rubella.
From April 4 to May 4, 2011, teams of barangay health teams made up of nurses and health workers saturated neighborhoods all over the country to target 17 million Filipino children, as part of the “Iligtas sa Tigdas ang Pinas" (A Measles-free Philippines) campaign of the Department of Health.
The aim: to eradicate measles and rubella by achieving at least 95 percent coverage of all children between nine months and eight years old.
Massive drive against measles
Because measles is a deadly but highly preventable childhood disease, government has mounted mass immunization drives against measles through the years.
“We entered this neighborhood recently and we covered all the children in the age group,” says Merle proudly. But today, they had to go back for Keidy Iyana, the only daughter of a young couple, Caselyn, 18 and her husband Dwight, 19. Keidy turned nine months the day before and was now eligible for the measles vaccine.
After vaccinating Keidy, Merle marked the yellow sticker pasted beside the front door of Keidy’s grandmother’s house: Number of Children 0 to 8 years old: 1; Number of Children vaccinated: 1.
“The period for the Iligtas sa Tigdas drive is over but we continue to comb communities, going from door to door, looking for children whom we have missed the first time around,” says Marichu. “We are aiming for 100 percent coverage.”
Analisa, 27, has five children, all of whom are covered by the BHTs. Her husband Francis is a mechanic. Although they live poorly in a one-room, three meters by three meters concrete box that goes under water when the river nearby rises, their children – Francis, 8; Franches, 6; Francisca, 4; Francisco, 2; and Francesca, 9 months, are frisky, bright eyed, and healthy. Analisa attributes this to the regular visits of Marichu and her barangay health team and the services they extend to ensure that all children in the area are immunized.
In Legaspi, the BHTs visited a total of 39,691 households from April 4 to May 4, 2011, reaching 28,982 children. The teams missed 2,497 children, for various reasons, such as families away on vacation, but they’ve been back for second and even third visits to make sure they have covered every eligible child.
Expanded immunization program
The Iligtas sa Tigdas project is part of the DOH’s Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI) program. Supported by the World Bank's National Sector Support for Health Reform project the EPI is a systematic approach to the eradication of communicable diseases that bring about high infant mortality rates such as diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, polio, hepatitis B, and measles.
In 1986, the government embraced the goal of Universal Child Immunization through three major strategies: sustaining Fully-Immunized Child (FIC) coverage of at least 90 percent in all provinces and cities, sustaining a polio-free country for global certification, and eliminating measles and neonatal tetanus.
In 2009, new vaccines against measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) and Hemophilus influenza B (HiB) were added to the EPI program, with World Bank financing.
Under EPI, every Wednesday is immunization day all over the country when BHTs in the nation’s health stations immunize children and their mothers, keeping a record of all the shots given and when. They make sure every child has completed one dose of BCG (Bacillus Calmette-Guérin) as protection against tuberculosis, three doses of DPT (Diphtheria-Pertussis-Tetanus Vaccine), three doses of OPV (Oral Polio Vaccine), three doses of Hepatitis B vaccine, and a measles vaccine before his or her first birthday.
Mothers of child-bearing age are also given tetanus toxoid (TT or Td) vaccines which not only protect mothers but also their newborns from neonatal tetanus.
The government hopes to eradicate measles in the country by 2012.