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Typhoon Haiyan: “You are the first people to come here and help us”

Children, wherever they are, should have access to essential healthcare. This is a core principle of our work, and I was lucky enough to see it put into action recently, when I joined our health team as they trekked across rivers and up a mountain to vaccinate children in the far-flung commune of MacArthur.

MacArthur is an hour’s drive from Tacloban, on Leyte island, and was one of the areas worst-hit by the typhoon when it made landfall on 8 November, with wind speeds of up to 173 mph. Save the Children and Merlin’s joint health team had already vaccinated hundreds of children against polio and measles, provided Vitamin A supplements to boost their immune system, and screened children for malnutrition in several villages nearby.

An arduous journey

The drive was just the start of the journey to Oguisan, a mountain village with a population of 200. With boxes of vaccines in cold containers slung around our necks, our party of seven waded through the first of three rivers, with fast-flowing water reaching almost to our waists, before embarking on the steep climb up the mountain.

When we arrived, sweaty, muddy and exhausted, the impact of the typhoon was immediately clear. Most buildings had been reduced to piles of wood, not a single roof remained intact and sheets of tarpaulin offered the only form of shelter. Thankfully, as Oguisan’s inhabitants had evacuated to the nearby village of San Antonio before the storm hit, there were no fatalities.

Being so tough to access meant the community went without much-needed assistance in the immediate aftermath of the typhoon. Rowena, the 20-year-old daughter of Oguisan’s Barangay Captain (effectively Oguisan’s equivalent of a mayor), said: “When we came back to our homes, we found they had been blown to pieces by the winds. Many people here are coconut farmers and with most of the trees ripped out, their livelihoods have been destroyed. People went down the mountain to collect all the things we have now – food and plastic sheeting. Save the Children are the first people to come here and help us.”

No child out of reach

Our team went to work with great efficiency, with one nurse measuring children’s upper arm circumference to check they were not showing signs of malnutrition, while other healthcare workers got them to swallow droplets of polio vaccine and bright red Vitamin A tablets. Finally John, the team leader, administered the measles injection. In just one hour, the team vaccinated and screened 65 young children.

“The community had to find themselves food and shelter, but they would not be able to receive this essential healthcare without us reaching out,” said John. “Preventative health measures are especially important here, as the outbreak of disease in a remote area like this could have devastating consequences.”

Over the past three weeks, our vaccination team has reached over 3,000 children across Leyte. We will now move on to the island of Roxas where people were also badly affected by the typhoon. As the arduous journey to Oguisan illustrates, we will do our best to ensure that no community is cut off from the vital health services they need to keep their children healthy

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