Tzu Chi Foundation and the San Mateo government’s program for Tuberculosis patients has now treated 97 young cases from Barangay Banaba, Ampid, and Guitnang Bayan I in San Mateo, Rizal.
With Tzu Chi’s support, many tuberculosis patients from the poorest families in San Mateo, Rizal managed to successfully complete their 6-month medications. These patients have now shown great improvement in terms of their health condition while others are now able to regularly attend school.
A year after Tzu Chi Foundation’s campaign against Tuberculosis (TB) was launched, patients from the poorest families in San Mateo, Rizal are now reaping the rewards.
To recall, the Tzu Chi Hualien General Hospital, Tzu Chi Foundation Philippines, and the local government of San Mateo, Rizal signed a Memorandum of Agreement in January 2016. Under the MoA, the Tzu Chi Hualien Hospital will support the 6-month medication for 20% of San Mateo’s TB patients. Tzu Chi Philippines, on its part, will mobilize volunteers under a cash-for-work program to monitor the patients’ medications; while the San Mateo government will provide the training for said volunteers.
While tuberculosis is now curable, treatment remains a struggle among the poorest Filipinos. A set of TB medications, which includes isoniazid, rifampicin, and pyrazinamide amounts to Php400 to Php700. To an ordinary Filipino family, who earns a minimum wage of Php400, this is a large sum of money already.
To have three children needing these medications all at once is enough to put a mother on edge such as in the case of Niña Apple Perdigon. Her three children: Prince Heaven, 6, Jasmine Andrea, 5, and JP, 3, were all found to have primary complex. Niña Apple suspects they were infected by their father.
With the meagre income of her husband from construction works, Niña Apple had begged for help from government officials to buy her children’s medicines. But though they received some aid, it was only for a week’s worth of medicines. After that, Niña Apple was at a loss again.
In January 2016, she found out about Tzu Chi’s TB program from their village’s health clinic. She immediately signed her children up. Six months later, the siblings are noticeably healthier and Niña Apple could sigh in relief as well.
“I feel very happy when Tzu Chi came to help. My children were able to take their medicines regularly and now we have finished the medication,” says Niña Apple, 25.
Tzu Chi volunteer Amada Fumera is among the monitoring volunteers for the patients in Barangay Guitnang Bayan I. Part of their job is to make sure that the patients are taking their medicines regularly, in the right dosage and on the right time.
“Being part of this project is both challenging and fulfilling because the patients’ houses are scattered in faraway places and we have to pay them a visit every day,” the 58-year-old volunteer says. “But the sacrifices and efforts on our part are all worth it because our patients got better. They are now able to play with other children and go to school. All the things they didn’t get to do before, because of Tzu Chi’s help, they are able to do now.”
12-year-old Ana Mae Ejara is one of the patients that Fumera took care of. When Fumera first met Ana Mae, she was too sick and listless. She was always lying in bed.
“My chest used to ache and I had coughs. Often, I couldn’t walk,” says Ana Mae. Several times she also had to miss school because of her condition.
Seeing her suffer is breaking the hearts of her parents.
“As a father, it was tough. Imagine how long the medication is,” says Ana Mae’s father, Tirso.
44-year-old Tirso works as a village police four times a week. He earns Php80 for every night he sets out to patrol. In the morning, he joins his wife, Maylene, to collect trash from their neighbors. They sell it and earn Php50-100 a day.
But no matter how hard the couple works, their daughter’s health condition is just too big for them to defeat.
“Sometimes, we skip meals so we can buy her medicines and make sure she doesn’t miss it,” says 40-year-old Maylene.
In May 2016, Tzu Chi opened the TB program for the second batch of patients and Ana Mae was among those accommodated.
“After I have taken regular medicines, I am able to play outside and move about in the house,” says Ana Mae. “I am thankful to everyone who helped me. Because of them I am better now.”
The couple Ejara echoes their daughter’s gratitude.
“When she was accommodated into Tzu Chi’s TB program, it’s like I lost a burden in my shoulder. I said, thank you because there will be assured medicines for my daughter,” says Maylene.
“If Tzu Chi had not come to provide the medicines I might have lost a child or two,” Tirso adds.
Now that their daughter has been cured, the couple is also determined to find a more decent house to rent. For the last 13 years they have been living in a crude shanty over a murky canal. They believe that their environment causes their children’s poor health. Apart from Ana Mae, their eldest son also suffered from tuberculosis in 2013. After intensively following on his medications, he managed to fight down the disease.
At present, Tzu Chi Foundation’s aid to the Ejaras continues through a monthly provision of 40-kilo rice.
Meanwhile, their poor living condition is also a factor that Jenny Ibañez considers as a reason why her daughter, Kristine Linongan, 8, was infected with the TB virus in 2016.
Since the house they were renting was destroyed after Typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana) in 2009, Kristine, her parents, and younger sister have been living in a makeshift shelter under a highway bridge in Barangay Banaba. At least 17 families are squatting in the area. All they had for walls are thin plywood, a gauze-like mat over their head serves as their ceiling. It is cramped under the bridge without proper ventilation. As the families here cook their meals using charcoal, the smoke often gets trapped and inhaled by children like Kristine, resulting to a lung problem.
After an intensive six-month medication, Kristine has shown improvement in terms of her health condition. “I am very thankful first to God because my daughter has gotten better and to Tzu Chi for the medicines they provided that helped my daughter complete her medications,” says Kristine’s mother, Jenny, 27. ”I feel more at ease because she’ better now. She has become more active and playful since she no longer gets the cough. Her appetite has also improved.”
Tzu Chi and San Mateo’s Anti-TB campaign is effective for 3 years. As of February 2017, two batches of patients or 97 cases have already successfully completed their medications. The third batch, comprised of 51 patients, are currently undergoing treatment.