Supporting health workers to provide better health care services for children in the Philippines
Ceasar Cenera has been a volunteer health worker in the municipality of Bobon, Northern Samar province, since 2013. He visits houses in this community at least thrice a month to monitor the health of pregnant women and children, and provide them with health care services.
Among these children is Manny. Listless, unresponsive and weighing only half the ideal weight for his age, Manny was diagnosed as severely malnourished at 17 months old. To address this, Ceasar gave Manny therapeutic food, vitamins and antibiotics, and closely monitors his condition.
Bobon is one of the areas in the Philippines with the highest rates of stunting, a condition where a child is short for their age. Caused by chronic malnutrition, stunting is irreversible and hinders the development of a child’s brain and body.
“I’m closely monitoring Manny so that he can return to his normal weight,” Ceasar said. Manny’s mother Jhona is grateful for the help that her son is receiving. “We didn’t know that there are other people who also care and want for the best for our child,” she said.
In 2017, UNICEF integrated its Nutrition and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene programs to fight malnutrition in the municipalities of Bobon and Mapanas in Northern Samar. These are the pilot integration areas under UNICEF’s First 1,000 Days program, which aims to give children the best start in life from the time they are in their mother’s womb until they are two years old — a critical period in their growth and development.
The integrated program uses behavioral change interventions to improve the knowledge, attitudes, skills and practices of the community on nutrition, sanitation and hygiene. With stakeholders — parents, caregivers, health care providers and community leaders — working together to ensure that children grow up healthy in a clean environment, the risk of malnutrition is lowered.
Health workers in the pilot areas like Ceasar benefited from training and supplies provided by UNICEF. “I learned a lot from UNICEF’s program. I learned how to screen children for malnutrition. I saw the importance of having access to clean water, a proper toilet, maintaining a clean environment — and especially breastfeeding — to a child’s nutrition. Here in our province, parents don’t know how important breastfeeding is for a child, and that mothers can stock breast milk even if they have to go back to work,” he said.
“There aren’t many people who want to be a Barangay Nutrition Scholar [volunteer health worker] because of the low pay,” Ceasar said. Volunteer health workers under the government’s Barangay Nutrition Scholar program receive a monthly stipend of PHP1,700 (USD34) and an additional allowance of PHP1,200 (USD24) every six months.
“But I accepted the offer because I can relate well with different people, young or old. I’m also used to volunteering in my community,” he said. UNICEF’s support has enabled health workers like Ceasar do their work better and improve the quality of health care services for children in the pilot integrated program communities.
There are 10 children diagnosed as severely malnourished in Bobon. He works with other health workers and day care workers to ensure that they get treatment and that all children stay healthy.
“We help each other. If their parents are unable to take them to the health center, we will be the ones to go to them. We walk long distances and cross rivers to reach them. Where there are children, we’re there. It’s a hard job, but I’m happy because I get to help my community,” he said.
The Change for Good partnership between UNICEF and leading Philippine airline Cebu Pacific supports UNICEF’s First 1,000 Days program, which helps give Filipino children the best start in life through health and nutrition interventions from their conception until 2 years of age.
Ensuring the optimal health and nutrition of children during this critical period of their development will ensure that they are protected from life-threatening childhood diseases, that they finish more years of school, and even earn up to 50% more as adults — contributing to the long-term health, stability and prosperity of children and the Philippines.
Cebu Pacific is the first and only partner of UNICEF in the Philippines and Southeast Asia for the global Change for Good fundraising initiative. As of July 2017, donations from Cebu Pacific passengers have helped prevent micronutrient deficiencies for 41,000 children and 46,000 pregnant women in the Philippines.
To learn more about UNICEF’s programs in the Philippines, visit www.unicef.ph.