In just a few days, I’ll be boarding a plane headed for the Philippines. As with any international trip, I’m looking forward to experiencing a new culture, tasting the traditional cuisine, and interacting with locals. Most of all, though, I am thrilled to have the opportunity to witness firsthand the work that UNICEF is doing in the hardest to reach areas of the country to eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus(MNT).
Joining me on this journey will be a U.S. Fund for UNICEF colleague, UNICEF Philippines staff members and a team from Kiwanis International who has partnered with UNICEF to become the single largest donor to the elimination of MNT in more than 30 countries where it remains a risk. Together, we will meet with health officials, local health workers, and Filipino dignitaries to gain a better understanding of the situation for women and children in the country. We will also visit a general hospital in the area and then drive more than six hours to the mountainous region of Benguet where we will witness the MNT program that UNICEF and local health workers are implementing to ensure that women are vaccinated against this deadly disease and that hygienic birth practices are exercised. I’ve read about MNT. I’ve seen photos and heard stories about MNT. I’ve even spoken and presented about this deadly but highly preventable disease. But soon, I will see firsthand just how vital UNICEF’s work is in saving and protecting the lives of mothers and their babies. I’m still excited about the opportunity to experience the new culture, to taste the traditional cuisine and to interact with locals. But when I step back and put into perspective the fact that the delegation surrounding me—the UNICEF family, Kiwanis International and the local government and health officials—is actually working together to save lives, I must say that the things I usually find to be most thrilling prior to embarking on international travel are taking a backseat this time. I am honored and delighted to be a part of this amazing group that will have the opportunity to observe the lifesaving work that UNICEF is doing in the Philippines. Because of support from partners like Kiwanis International, eliminating MNT from the face of the earth is not only a goal that is attainable—it is one that is well within our reach.
© UNICEF/LAOA2005-5276/Jim Holmes | A mother receiving a tetanus vaccine in Lao People's Democratic Republic.