April 17, 2012
By Alyssa Chase, Kiwanis International Creative Communications Manager
To the mountains: A hopeful journey
I woke this morning to the sound of dogs howling. For a minute I thought I was back at the family ranch in Kansas, where the only big packs are coyotes. Then I heard a cock crow. It reminded me of my grandma’s neighborhood in New Orleans. The birdsong sounds just like anywhere I’ve ever been.
But this isn’t anywhere. This is the Philippines, in the province of Benguet, in a town called Baugio, where a group of passionate people are doing everything they can to change the future of mothers and babies.
What’s remarkable about the project is the teamwork amidst so much complexity. There’s the local government, creating policies and infrastructure. We’ve met the governor of Benguet, Nestor B. Fongwan, and Dr. Esteban Piok, Benguet’s provincial health officer. We’ve traveled in vans with Dr. Alexi Marrero, the regional medical coordinator for the immunization program, and Terry Foman-Eg, a nurse who works with him.
We traveled to the local 200-bed provincial hospital, bright and well maintained.
In the maternity ward, we met Marlene Capatas, who gave birth four days ago to a daughter, Janelle. Both mom and baby are protected from tetanus because Marlene received the three doses she needed for protection and gave birth in the hospital’s sterile environment
I know now what it took to make this happy story. UNICEF helped procure the vaccine. In fact, the U.S. Fund’s Lynn Stratford says UNICEF procures 90 percent of the world’s vaccines. “It’s UNICEF’s role,” she says. “UNICEF supports governments in developing programs.” It’s part of what she calls a “planning circle.”
The Kiwanis family is part of that circle, too, as we share support and funds to fuel the project.
Marlene received her vaccines at home, and now I know what it took to make that happen. In the hospital, Dr. Alexi Marrero showed us the key elements of the “cold chain” that bring vaccines to women in remote locations. There’s a cold pack, which looks like a cooler. There are ice packs in the freezer. There’s the vaccine—20 vials of it fit in each cold pack. Lynn Stratford says the label on the bottle changes color if the vaccine gets too hot. The cold pack stays cool for just one day. That’s how long health workers have to get to moms in remote locations.
A pediatrician in the hospital’s maternity ward, a doctor named Joy, underscored that challenging part of the journey when she shared that the main barrier to getting vaccines to women is not rumors or other misinformation, it’s distance and geography.
We’ll learn more about that challenge today, when we travel to Itogon.