By Marife Cambel, Nutrition Officer at Save the Children’s Central Mindanao office
I have lived through some of the worst disasters to hit my province: I have come to accept storms and droughts, but not the dreadful consequences that result from them.
So when our office learned about the cholera outbreak in a town in North Cotabato, I was eager to respond.
I travelled two hours to the town’s makeshift emergency clinic, in scorching heat. I thought I knew what I’d need to accomplish when I got there.
Yet just a few seconds after entering the cramped clinic, I realised that this was no ordinary response. Health personnel were overwhelmed by the number of patients seeking help.
I saw a child trying to take off her IV drip, begging her mother to ease the pain. The mother whispered to her, her left hand gently massaging the child’s parched skin. In that moment, I recognised that nothing could have prepared me for something like this.
Contaminated spring water
Close to 2,500 families are now affected by cholera in North Cotabato. The province’s water supply is limited and communities depend on natural water sources: doctors blame contaminated spring water for the recent outbreak. Families are being told to boil their water and some of them have been provided with water purifiers and medicine, but with the number of patients arriving at the makeshift clinic, these measures are not enough.
No end in sight
No one can tell how long the outbreak will last. Only one thing is certain: the longer these families and children wait, the more they risk dehydration or death.A body can dehydrate in just a few hours and children, especially those under five, are most at risk. I was told that a one-month-old child had died from diarrhoea.
As I head back to the office, the image of that child crying to her mother stays with me, more painful than any storm damage to a building could be.
Save the Children continues to coordinate with health officials and monitor the situation . We have hygiene kits ready to help prevent the spread of the outbreak to nearby communities.