Zoe Johnson – Medical elective in Pastrana Rural Health Unit, Leyte, Philippines February 2019
In February 2019, I travelled to Tacloban on the island of Leyte in The Philippines to work with the charity ‘Volunteer for the Visayans’ at Pastrana Rural Health Unit. Upon arrival, I was made aware that The Philippines was in the midst of a public health crisis in the form of a large measles outbreak. Therefore, alongside the nurses in the Rural Health Unit, my role was participating in a mass vaccination outreach programme for the most rural communities in central Leyte.
The clinic itself is extremely basic and funded by the Philippine Department Of Health and therefore regularly struggles with a lack of available medications to be able to distribute to the patients. A photo of the clinic can be seen below:
The measles outreach programme involved travelling to extremely remote communities to provide the MMR vaccines to local children free of charge. These communities, called Barangays, are often miles from the nearest health care facility and the people are living in extreme poverty without reliable access to safe clean drinking water and with a diet consisting mostly of rice and occasional meat. The vaccination sessions were chaotic to say the least! On our busiest day, we vaccinated 800 children in one day which was incredible and really highlighted the great work that this clinic is doing to provide protection against measles to children across the country.
As you can see from the above photos, the areas where we were working were beautiful and the children were incredibly grateful for us giving them an injection; something which would never happen in the UK! Another very interesting dynamic was that the children had never seen a ‘white person’ before and therefore were fascinated by the colour of my skin! This led to many photos being taken and I felt like a celebrity! Some of the nurses joked that more children wanted their MMR vaccines if it was me who was giving them out!!
The whole experience in the Philippines was incredible and I would even go as far as to say that it was life changing. Living with a local family in their house, eating what they ate and getting used to washing using a bucket bath allowed me to become fully immersed in their culture and really made me grateful for the conditions we are fortunate enough to live in in the UK. Seeing a struggling healthcare system deal with a public health crisis was also inspiring and seeing the nurses willing to walk through jungles and mud tracks to give vaccines to the children who needed it was incredible.
I have left the Philippines feeling very inspired and I would recommend anyone who is interested in paediatrics or public health to consider this incredible elective opportunity! It is a fantastic chance to work with some fantastic children in a beautiful part of the world aswell as really making a difference to children who would not otherwise have access to healthcare.
If you want to get in touch with me to discuss organising something similar for your elective, my email is: Zoe.email@example.com
You can find more information about the organisation at: http://www.visayans.org/