Faces of UNICEF Philippines: 
Q&A with Carla Ante-Orozco, Health Procurement Services Specialist

When Carla was young, she wanted to become a journalist and cover the news in faraway and dangerous places. Instead, she became a doctor. She worked at the Department of Health then joined UNICEF in 2012. Since then, Carla has traveled to some of the hardest-to-reach, most dangerous and disadvantaged areas in the Philippines — places where children are affected by poverty, rapid urbanization, natural disasters and armed conflict — to work on programs that improve public health services for children and mothers.

Carla Ante-Orozco, Health Procurement Services Specialist at UNICEF Philippines (left), with children in an indigenous community in Pampanga. ©UNICEF Philippines/C. Orozco

If you had to describe your job to a 5-year-old, how would you explain it?

I’m a doctor who doesn’t work in a hospital. I take care of children in a different way: by making sure that vaccines and health services that children need are available to them so they won’t get sick.

What programs/projects are you currently working on?

I lead UNICEF’s program that helps strengthen the Philippine government’s vaccine procurement processes. In 2017, DOH will be procuring most of their vaccines through UNICEF. My role is to help ensure that quality vaccines at the most affordable price are delivered on time.

UNICEF is currently modelling health interventions to increase immunization coverage in urban poor communities in Manila and Taguig. We partner with local leaders and non-health stakeholders, leveraging resources available to them and supporting them in planning and implementing sustainable interventions.

We’re seeing promising results for children from these interventions. Statistics show that 30% of people living in urban areas are in slums, and 1 in 3 slum dwellers is a child. These interventions can be scaled up to reach more communities and strengthen the national immunization program.

Carla (3rd from left) and health workers pose for a group photo while making house-to-house visits in Kapai, Lanao del Sur, to vaccinate women for tetanus. With support from UNICEF, health workers are able to reach women living in isolated and conflict areas in the ARMM region to immunize them. ©UNICEF Philippines/C. Orozco

I’m also supporting the tetanus-diphtheria immunization campaign in the ARMM, which aims to reach 320,324 women aged 15–40 years old in the region. ARMM is a high-risk area for maternal and neonatal tetanus (MNT), a disease that can easily kill newborns and mothers if they’re infected during childbirth. Globally the Philippines is one of 18 countries that have not yet eliminated MNT.

Through all of these programs, we’re also increasing awareness of the importance of immunization and health services — and that these should be a concern of everyone in the community.

I’m also the emergency focal point for the health section in UNICEF Philippines. I make sure that UNICEF is always ready to respond to emergencies. I represent UNICEF in emergency preparedness and response activities of the humanitarian health cluster led by the World Health Organization.

“When I see a child getting vaccinated, I know that I contributed somehow to ensure that the vaccine reached that child and I helped prevent that child from getting sick.”

What are the most important contributions and decisions you have made for UNICEF?

Our work in urban immunization in the Philippines is the most advanced in the region. It’s a good model for creating an immunization strategy in urban areas.

I advocated for DOH to procure vaccines through UNICEF to avoid delivery delays and stock-outs that can lead to children not being immunized. To date, most of DOH vaccines are procured through UNICEF.

I helped encourage DOH to organize its first-ever national World Immunization Week celebration in 2017. This event seeks to increase awareness among government leaders on the challenges of immunization and advocate for them to support strategies to improve coverage.

Carla (4th from left) and UNICEF emergency staff train health workers in Leyte as part of UNICEF’s Typhoon Haiyan emergency response. UNICEF supports immunization of children in emergency situations to prevent the spread of diseases in the aftermath of a disaster. ©UNICEF Philippines/C. Orozco

What’s the hardest project you’ve ever worked on?

The immunization campaign after Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban City. We were planning to do immediate immunization in evacuation centers to prevent the spread of diseases, but there were no health workers available because they were also affected by the typhoon. The vaccines and cold chain equipment were also destroyed. UNICEF covered the cost of transporting volunteer nurses from DOH-NCR and worked with partners to facilitate the retrieval of vaccines and fridges from other regions.

Was there a moment in which you failed at work? How did you deal with it?

The most frustrating moment for me was when there was a big vaccine stock-out in 2015, which lasted for more than 6 months. I offered all possible solutions to the government but to no avail. It was a complex problem involving high-level decision makers, so I just let them know that UNICEF is always ready to help in case they needed our support.

“I believe in UNICEF’s mandate of working for children, and looking at a child holistically for them to grow, develop and reach their full potential.”

In your opinion, what are the biggest issues and challenges that children in the Philippines face?

Although vaccines are available, many children are unimmunized. In 2015, the Philippines was among the top 5 countries worldwide with the most number of children who did not receive the DPT3 (diphtheria-pertussis-tetanus) vaccine.

Carla and a government health worker visit a family in Albay to check the immunization status of children in the household during the Measles Rubella National Immunization campaign in 2014. UNICEF provided support to the Department of Health during the conduct of the campaign. ©UNICEF Philippines/C. Orozco

With immunization coverage going down, disease outbreaks that affect children may happen again. There seems to be a lack of accountability from local leaders for children getting sick and dying from preventable causes. Inequities are apparent. Children in urban poor communities, far-flung villages, disaster-prone and armed conflict areas have limited access to the health services they need.

What are the most satisfying parts of your job?

Seeing people I work with translate what they learn from UNICEF into actions. They become independent of our support and use their own resources to fund interventions in their communities. They become advocates of the change that should happen.

In many of my field visits, whether in cities or far-flung communities, when I see a child getting vaccinated, I know that I contributed somehow to ensure that the vaccine reached that child and I helped prevent that child from getting sick.

“Our work in urban immunization in the Philippines is the most advanced in the region. It’s a good model for creating an immunization strategy in urban areas.”

What’s the most memorable trip or field visit you went on with UNICEF?

We visited an indigenous community in Pampanga in 2015 for a donor visit. The village is located high up in the mountain. There’s no regular transport, water is scarce and food is not always available. When we got there, the people were all smiling and welcomed us into their community. We met the only midwife in the community and were surprised to find out that she became a midwife because of a UNICEF scholarship in the 1980s.

Carla (rightmost) with Bernie Bersola, Supply Chain Consultant at UNICEF Philippines (left), and Elvie Bulao, immunization program manager of the province of Camarines Sur (middle), heading to Balaton, Lagonoy, Camarines Sur to monitor the cold chain equipment provided by UNICEF and check their concerns on immunization . To get to Balaton, one needs to travel for 10 hours by road from Manila to Lagonoy, and then 2 hours by boat to Balaton Island. ©UNICEF Philippines/C. Orozco

What inspires you to continue your work in UNICEF?

I believe in UNICEF’s mandate of working for children, and looking at a child holistically for them to grow, develop and reach their full potential.

What makes UNICEF a good place to work in?

The culture of inclusivity, fairness and equality for all. Having the resources to make things happen. Working every day with colleagues is fun! We like celebrating each other’s birthdays and personal milestones like graduations and wedding anniversaries.

What advice or tips would you give others who also want to work in the same field/job as yours?

You must love public health. Have a vision of what you want to accomplish and be committed and dedicated to make it happen. Knowledge in immunization principles, immunization program management, and health systems strengthening is required for this job. You must know how to establish and develop partnerships, and have negotiation, lobbying, advocating and listening skills.

How do you spend your free time?

When I’m home I try to spend quality time with my children. We bring them to the zoo, playgrounds or swimming pools. I love to swim and explore nature.

My colleagues don’t know that I…

…am afraid of flying. And I’m actually a funny person!

To learn more about UNICEF’s work in the Philippines, visit www.unicef.ph.

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated UNICEF Philippines’s story.