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Operation Timbang Plus: On the frontline of efforts to protect young lives

From left: Anna Simms, Erwina Eriguel, Barangay Captain, Delia Ordanza, teacher at the Alternative Learning School and Jovita Fontanilla, health worker

Anna Simms joined her daughter-in-law and grand-daughter at a local health-check for young children, part of a national campaign to prevent malnutrition. Here she recounts her experience of the grassroots effort to improve young lives

We were on the road early on a Saturday morning to walk down to the local Baranguay hall for a weigh-in and measure day for local children.

Gabriella, my granddaughter was going to be checked up as part of Operation Timbang Plus, which monitors the healthy development of children. I had the privilege of attending the event for the first time.

By the time we arrived, the helpers, scales and measuring equipment were all in place and a queue of people had already formed.

“It is designed to stop malnutrition in children,” said Delia Ordanza, a teacher who had volunteered to help at the event.
Once she was weighed and measured, Gabriella, along with the other 100 children that turned up that day, had her weight and height recorded in a notebook by health worker Jovita Fontanilla.

The event was also attended by Barangay Captain Erwina Eriguel, staff from the local Health Centre including health workers, a nurse and midwife, along with Mrs Ordanza and other volunteers.

They represented two sectors of Barangay Santa Barbara in Agoo, La Union, which covers 500 people out of a baranguay total of about 2,000.

Happily, by the end of the day, not one child was found to be malnourished.

“Any child that is found to be nutritionally compromised is given vitamins and milk five days a week funded by the Department of Health,” said Mrs Fontanilla.

This lady joined the health centre as a health care worker when she retired, aged 60, last year. Prior to that she had been a timekeeper at the Universal Leaf Company since 1979.

“My work at the tobacco company was clerical, keeping tabs on workers and the times they clocked on and off. At the health centre I am also a record keeper so have always worked in clerical roles”, she said.

She added that the health centre also dealt with immunisations for infants and young children and vaccinations for children up to the age of 12. They generally immunise 20 children at a time.

Another important part of their work is checking on senior citizens, pregnant women and disabled people. Staff visit the elderly to check their blood pressure and make sure they are generally healthy. Any found to be ill are referred to an appropriate institution.

Once a year, Mrs Fontanilla tramps the streets to collect family census data. The population changes annually at a fast rate and the results are, again, counted and collated.

Operation Timbang Plus began in the 70s to locate malnourished children and the work is done by local government units.

In spite of the zero result from our two baranguay sectors, it’s estimated that 3.4 million children in the Philippines are stunted (short for their age) and a further 300,000 children under five years old are underweight.

Based on the Food and Nutrition Institute data from 2015, the chronic malnutrition rate among children aged two and under was 26.2%, which, sadly, was the highest number for many years.