By Pauline Camille Baladjay
I wish I could describe the image of a 1 year old at LRT1 stairs this morning as clearly as I remember him. There he was alone, sitting and drinking into a cup of ¼ filled Gulaman larger than his face. It seemed like he did not know whether to stop or keep drinking as the guardian left him with just one instruction-feed himself.
The frail body could barely support his head. He took incessant sips without care to the people passing by. He did not even care if I stayed. I stood there appalled for a couple of seconds with a hundred things running inside my head. This is not uncommon. This is evident to a hundred or even thousands of avenues and stairs around the world. This is persistent in urban and rural areas. This exists where poverty exists. I have seen a lot throughout my life, and yet it still squeezes my heart every time. For a moment I felt I had to talk to the mother. But I knew talking would not solve anything. And besides I did not know the whereabouts of her. Where could she be??
As I recollected the event in my desk, I tried to contain the emotions to what looked as a disturbing reality. The truth is, there are millions of people whose well-being is not achieved because of economic incapacity. The family of that child is living to probably less than Php 100 a day. I do realize that I am blessed. And I feel responsible knowing it is better to be in a position to help than to seek one.
These people do not differ much from the ones I work with in the organization. They are all victims of the cycle of poverty. The cycle will go on and on as long as people are unable to regain the capability to be productive. Most of the popular diseases are caused by lifestyle: smoking, drinking, work related stress, diet..etc. But Neglected Tropical Diseases are diseases caused by only one style- Poverty. Lymphatic Filariasis, to sight, exists because of mosquitoes. Schistosomiasis and Soil Transmitted Helminthiasis are caused by lack of accessible clean water. These things we take for granted. But this is the reality others have to endure.
The case is stressed further for the underprivileged. Research, funding, and advocacy are mostly directed towards eliminating “celebrity diseases”. But we are struggling on Lymphatic Filariasis, Schistosomiasis, and Soil Transmitted Helminths-terms I am sure most of you have never heard of. There is not much interest on these because the beneficiaries are actually people whose concerns do not reach the humble corners of our home. These people live in remote areas, in mountains and in villages that would take 4 hours or more by foot to travel.
Globally, I am admiring the changing trend on Neglected Tropical Diseases. People are beginning to notice more and more the deep need for support. Governments, pharmaceutical companies, private institutions, and academes now work together to eliminate the so called “diseases of poverty”. But this is still not enough.
For me, the real challenge is to raise awareness to the common people. Helping fight NTDs means going pro to economic productivity and hope for a sustainable future to our less fortunate brothers and sisters. We have more than enough capacity to stretch out to them and bridge the gap between health care and none. I honestly believe that each of us can be a hero. For once maybe the cycle of poverty can actually halt through small efforts made by simple people who are trying to make a consolidated difference. This makes sense to me: That to be able to work, one must be fit. And to be fit, one is able to work. The solution is straight to the point simple but not easy. That is why I come with great hope that my agenda be heard. I call out to individuals to win the war not just for health but for freedom from the chains of poverty. I do believe that one drop can make a hundred ripples. And I’m looking forward to work with an ocean of heroes in the Philippines. Every day is an opportunity to start. And today is the best day to be a hero.
Pauline Camille Baladjay is the Executive Officer of CELF-Philippines, Inc. She is a graduate of Trinity University of Asia-St. Luke’s College of Nursing. Ms. Baladjay used to be a Pediatric Nurse Specialist at the Philippine Children’s Medical Center . Today she is on the process of finishing her MA in Nursing.