Philippines: keeping mothers and babies healthy after disaster

Rowena smiles as she watches her 8-month old baby Solenn plays with the toys. He is just up after a long nap he fell in to after a good feed. The other mothers smile with her. That’s what mothers do here in this little space World Vision has created. They enjoy a private time with their infants and smile at each other’s babies and support them.

“It is good to be here in this space for mothers and babies,” says Rowena, “The tent we live in right now has nine people living in it, I have very little privacy with the baby.”
Ensuring the wellbeing of mothers and children during and after a disaster is a priority for World Vision. Rowena is in the WAYCS (Women and Young Children Space), a special space World Vision has created for lactating mothers like her with children under five who were affected by Haiyan.
The space creates a safe corner for mothers to spend private time with their infants, to breastfeed, rest, eat, receive support from peers, receive counselling and advice about breastfeeding and nutrition and learn other ways of taking care of their children especially after a disaster.
“The space helps me take my mind off other worries and focus on Solenn and even my other children who tag along with me to the Space,” says Rowena, “and I have learnt much with regard to breastfeeding and nutritions from the sessions at WAYCS.”
Currently 13 such Spaces functioning in the areas affected by Typhoon Haiyan with over 1,000 mothers participating in the activities. World Vision is careful to select the locations for the WAYCS making sure the Space is safe and in a quiet area away from excess outside noise and smells and that it has easy access to water and food for mothers. The Space is also equipped with necessary comforts for mothers and children including sitting mats, pillows and toys for infants and for older children who might accompany the mothers.
Each Space is monitored and managed by trained volunteer health workers who provide the mothers with necessary training, knowledge and support.
“World Vision trained us in Psychological First Aid, how to debrief with mothers and young children and how to support in the Infant and Young Child Feeding. The training helped us refresh our knowledge and learn new things ourselves,” says Annafe Masecampo, Barangay Nutrition Scholar and Volunteer Health Worker of a WAYCS in Ormoc.
“We speak to mothers in small groups when we do debriefing so that it would be more personal and effective,” she says. The Space managed by Annafe benefits nearly 100 mothers.
Emergency situations such as Haiyan can seriously threaten breastfeeding practices and consequently child nutrition, health and survival. According to research nearly 95% of infant and child deaths in emergencies result from diarrhoea due to contaminated water and an unsanitary environment. Child Health Now in the Philippines is advocating for stronger breastfeeding policy and awareness of the benefits; shortly after the disaster hit the Philippines, UNOCHA suggested around 1.5 million children may be facing malnutrition. 
“Some mothers confessed during our sessions that they had been too stressed to breastfeed after the disaster and they had been feeding their children water. The result was these infants suffered diarrhea,” says Annafe, “and they were very thankful for the knowledge and the assistance the Space provides for them. Now they give only breast milk to their infants.”
“We also assesses the nutritional status of children who come to the WAYCS because after a disaster they usually lose weight because they don’t get the right amount of food to eat,” says World Vision’s WAYCS facilitator, Marijo Gomez, ““Depending on the status we refer them to the city nutrition programme coordinator for further treatment and care”
Through the WAYCS, World Vision provides high energy biscuits to the pregnant and lactating mothers along with breastfeeding kits that include breast feeding scarves for privacy, water bottles to keep them hydrated, feeding cups and lunch boxes.
“Mothers need to be in good health so that they can breast feed their children especially during calamities,” says Marijo, “Breast milk is the best food for babies during a disaster.”
Breast milk not only provides the infants with perfect nutrition required for growth it also contains antibodies that fight infection, including diarrhoea and respiratory infections common among infants in emergency situations. It is always clean, requires no fuel, water, or electricity, and is available, even in the direst circumstances. Breastfeeding releases hormones that lower stress and anxiety in both babies and mothers and provides a natural protection to the infants who are the most vulnerable in any disaster.

*Read about how World Vision is promoting breastfeeding in typhoon-stricken areas HERE

*Read more about Child Health Now in the Philippines HERE