On the second day of Tzu Chi’s three-day medical mission in Tacloban City, TIMA doctors realized the general situation regarding the local children’s health. As most children live in cramped spaces and unsanitary environments, such factors give rise to a slew of issues ranging from colds to infections.
Norma Basio brought her grandson Keith Gian to Tzu Chi’s three-day medical mission to have his legs checked. For a seven-year-old, Keith has unusually weak legs, only able to allow him to run a few hundred yards before quitting. As a result, he often trips and falls, to Norma’s worry.
Soon, grandmother and son were in front of Dr. Huang Shuying, a Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA) pediatrician from Singapore. After flexing Keith’s legs for a while, the doctor suspects that it’s a lack of calcium in his diet. To be on the safe side, however, she prescribed some multivitamins for Keith and told Norma to seek a bone specialist.
At least Norma can breathe easy knowing that it’s not polio.
“I feel like a burden has been lifted because now I know it might not be polio after all. I’m grateful to Tzu Chi Foundation,” said Norma.
Seeing other children and their conditions, however, TIMA doctors are getting a picture of the state of their health. Living in cramped spaces with garbage strewn all over, the youth are prone to diseases like colds and the flu. Most even fancy playing by the sea, which is also riddled with solid waste.
Diet is also a major factor, as some children hardly eat a balanced meal. Some like Keith, as Norma narrates, prefer processed food like hotdogs over fresh vegetables. In other cases, poverty prevents families from enjoying a balanced meal, let alone prompt medical attention.
“In Tacloban, where resources are limited, families are unable to seek prompt medical attention early on. The disease, as a result, is allowed to progress until it significantly affects his life,” said Huang.
The latter case is evident with two-year-old Sanjen Saberon, whose legs are scarred with cuts and abscesses. Her mother Floricel said it all began from an ant bite that never healed. Sanjen was eventually prescribed antibiotics, but after five bottles the cuts and abscesses were hardly going away.
Asked to see a specialist, Floricel knows she cannot afford with her meager income as a sales clerk in Tacloban. Php30 is instantly deducted from her Php300 daily income for the commute from her home in Santa Fe, a town neighboring Tacloban. She has two children to raise.
“While at work, I overheard a senior citizen talking about Tzu Chi’s medical mission. I pleaded with my manager to allow me to take Sanjen to the event to be able to treat her,” said Floricel, who nearly breaks into tears.
With a crying Sanjen on hand, she sought the help of Dr. Cheng Ching-feng, TIMA pediatrician from Taiwan. The cuts and abscesses point to cellulitis, a bacterial skin infection, but the doctor also realize that she might have bacteremia or bacteria in the blood.
“The oral drug [Sanjen is taking] might not help in this stage, so we arranged for her transfer to a hospital,” Cheng said.
Sanjen is admitted at Divine Word Hospital, where Tzu Chi held its two-day cataract mission on October 23 and 24.
Amidst the children the TIMA doctors treated, there’s a clear need for the locals to be informed about proper health. The doctors go out of their way to inform the children and their families the right kind of food to eat and right way to wash hands, among others. It might seem a small step in the journey to improve family health, but it’s a step in the right direction.