International health officials observing the recent Philippine national immunization drive were impressed by the wide-scale public involvement, saying it set an international precedent.
On May 19 and April 21, the Department of Health (DOH) administered free vaccines to about 11 million children and 4 million mothers to combat diphtheria, measles, pertussis, polio, tetanus and tuberculosis.
The campaigns, the most massive ever attempted in the country, involved 100,000 health workers and 500,000 volunteers at a cost of about 150 million pesos (US$6 million).
"We´ve never seen such a wide public involvement," said Edwin Judd, a representative of the United Nations Children´s Fund (UNICEF).
Noting that there was "a clear and decisive mobilization plan" by the health department, he called the immunization drive a "landmark" and "precedent-setting internationally."
The health department even secured cooperation from the military and leftist and Mulsim rebel groups to allow safe passage for health workers in areas of conflict.
Judd and Alberto Romualdez, of the Manila-based Western Pacific Regional Office of the World Health Organization (WHO), accompanied Health Secretary Juan Flavier on a tour of the country to observe the campaign first-hand.
Romualdez lauded Flavier for "get(ting) everybody involved." He said such a mobilization program could be used in other health projects and promised to conduct an assessment of the drive to learn lessons for future use.
Flavier said that UNICEF and the WHO rated the Philippine campaign as "the best in developing countries" and that the campaign has been praised and is being eyed for duplication abroad.
A festive atmosphere prevailed on both of the immunization days, despite the wails of infants and preschool children afraid of needles.
In Manila and even this remote city 560 kilometers southeast of Manila, entire neighborhoods gathered in immunization centers amid the music of street bands or radios.
Politicians, seeing potential votes in future elections, made themselves conspicuous at the centers. Various business establishments likewise took the occasion to display company streamers and distribute product samples.
"The festive atmosphere is wonderful, very much a part of the Filipino culture," Judd commented.
Of the total 15 million targeted to be immunized against the six diseases, the DOH estimated a 92 percent turnout, a report corroborated by a cluster survey conducted by UNICEF. Judd said that "there´s a great deal of accuracy and validity in the DOH report."
The government intended to immunize 9 million children with the oral polio vaccine, but DOH reports showed that more than the targeted number -- 9.5 million -- came to 64,000 immunization centers nationwide.
This was part of a move to totally eradicate the crippling polio virus from the country by the year 1995, five years ahead of the global WHO target.