I pride myself having survived and lived through some of the worst disasters that have hit my province. After all, I have come to accept storms and droughts as part of my personal struggle and reality. So when our office learned about the cholera outbreak in one of the towns in North Cotabato, I was eager to respond. I felt I had enough courage.
I travelled for two hours before I reached the town’s makeshift emergency clinic. The scorching heat kept me awake throughout the journey. In my mind, I knew what I had to accomplish and how my day should go.
Yet a few seconds after entering the cramped clinic, I realized that this was not an ordinary response. Health personnel were overwhelmed with the number of patients seeking help and asking for medicine. What particularly caught my attention was a child trying to take off her IV drip, begging her mother to ease the pain. The mother whispered words to her ears, with her left hand gently massaging the child's parched skin. For one moment, I recognized that nothing could prepare me for something like this.
Close to 2,500 families are now affected by the widespread cholera outbreak in some of the towns in North Cotabato. The doctors blame the contaminated spring water for the spread of the disease. These communities had depended on natural water sources because of the limited water supply in the province. Left and right, families were told to boil their water. Some of them were provided with clean water purifiers and medicine. But these supplies are not sufficient considering the number of patients coming in and out of the makeshift clinic.
No one could tell when the outbreak would stop. Only one thing is certain, the more we let these families and children wait, the more we put them at risk of dehydration, or worse, death. It only takes a few hours before a body starts to dehydrate. And children, especially those under five years old, are most at risk. I was told that a one-month old child died from diarrhoea.
As I head back to the office, the image of that child crying to her mother kept recurring in my mind. It was more painful than a powerful storm ripping off a house. Perhaps this is because I imagine myself and my niece in their shoes. It was an inner struggle.
Save the Children continues to coordinate with health officials and monitor the situation in the affected communities. We have prepositioned hygiene kits to help prevent the spread of the outbreak to nearby communities.
Written by Marife Cambel who is a Nutrition Officer at Save the Children's Central Mindanao office. She has been part of different humanitarian responses for Save the Children.