Monday, February 27, 2012

Only in the Philippines

...would the inflight entertainment on a major national airline consist of calling for volunteers to sing unaccompanied Karaoke into the intercom.
...would people get up & do it.
...would you see guys walking in between stopped traffic to sell, not garlands of flowers, gum or cigarettes, but a whole tray of bonsai trees.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The walk to work

Leave the apartment, check the lock.  Nearly called a locksmith last week.

Down 16 floors. Say “Good morning!” to the security guard as he opens the door. Sling the backpack diagonally across my front and out into the heat.
Left is the laundry service, four money changers, the most famous bar in Manila, and Kink Cakes, which sells exactly what you think it does.

Right is the way to the office.
Along the side of the shopping mall, closed at this hour. Stay to the right of the footpath, anything else confuses everybody.
Past the crowd outside the recruitment agency, spruiking dreams and jobs in the Middle East.
Down the 50cm step from footpath to road, helpfully matched with a wheelchair symbol on the other side.
Past the fallen tree, the Philippine Airlines training centre, the pedocab drivers asleep in their cabins while early 90s pop blasts from their speakers.
Right, and cross the road with care, between gaps in the jeepneys and motorbikes. Past the construction site proudly proclaiming, “182 days without recordable loss of work incident!” - as it has read for the last two weeks. Contemplate the use of the word, “recordable.”
Left again, past veggie stalls, cigarette stands, disabled beggars and the Supreme Court.

Right onto United Nations Avenue. We are the only UN agency in the street. Fight through the largest crowd, outside a “clearance centre.” This could be interpreted as referring to its demolition site appearance, but it is where all jobseekers must apply for a security check. The five-year-old kids do a brisk trade in Black Ballpens here.

And here we are, another smiling security guard, through the metal detector and into the compound: green lawns, regional flags, the walkway flanked by a koi pool with resident tortoises.

On the way home, more than half the trip is through the mall.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Hepatitis B - so what?

Hep B isn't the most obvious disease to choose. In Australia, we tend to think of it as a blood infection to avoid, but (even in the medical world) aren't really that aware of the consequences. The idea of a "carrier" implies that that person is pretty healthy, really, but not that they are themselves at risk.
  • One in four people chronically infected with hepatitis B will die of liver failure or liver cancer
  • Approximately 278,000 people in our region die from the consequences of hep B per year
  • Babies whose mothers are infected have a 90% chance of contracting hep B
  • A vaccine dose at birth is the best way to prevent lifelong infection 
  • Almost half of the people in the world with chronic hep B infection live in the Western Pacific region (which Australia is in).
Access to the birth dose vaccine, in many settings, can tell us about women's access to skilled birth attendants and the perinatal care system.

In Laos, 80% of women give birth without a skilled attendant. Less than 30% have any antenatal or postnatal care. About one in ten children die before their fifth birthday, although this number is falling. And the total government spending on health care is about US$1.90 per person. Per year.

Laos isn't going to meet the regional hepatitis B control milestone. It's not hard to see why. But in some ways, an international push for one priority can focus attention on others.

If you're interested in reading more, this is the place to do it. For the public health inclined, the paper by Rani has an interesting discussion on the motivations behind setting regional goals.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

The settling in process

So, I've done this a few times before. Arrived in a new place, rushed around to get myself organised, put the pressure on in order to sort my life out as soon as possible, which will then allow me to relax.

I bought a house on the first day of work once.

Don't worry, I haven't done that.

All this is my way of preparing myself to settle a bit... but it requires a fair amount of energy in the meantime. Combined with the mandatory new-country-new-workplace-culture-shock First Thursday Meltdown, it's often not pretty.

So far, it's been smooth. My victories thus far are:
1. Getting on the plane at all. Some of you know why.
2. Knitting a fish.
3. Obtaining a phone number.
4. Realising the day before work that my normally fairly accurate sense of direction was flipped, and therefore I what I thought was North (the way to the office) was in fact South.
5. Finding an ATM that will recognise my card. See this for why this is an issue.
6. Obtaining an apartment. On a three week lease.
7. Realising before muesli-planning purchase that those are not shreds of coconut. They are squid flakes.
8. Toasting rolled oats in a wok.
9. Eating both lunch and dinner with different new people two days running.
10. Obtaining an ID badge with purty blue official logo button. Not needing it because the security guard already recognises me. 
10. Swimming 20 laps. OK, so it's the "condo" pool and it's only about 15m long. But I still swam.
11. Getting internet. I can now talk to you all.

So for now, this is home sweet home. 

And tomorrow is Thursday.

Thursday, February 02, 2012


So... where are you going?
Lots of places. Manila based, with a month in Laos and two months in Cambodia. Rough itinerary is:
Feb 4 - 28: Manila (this is in the Philippines, for those who may need reminding)
March: Vientiane, Laos
April: back to Manila with quick dash home
Late April - mid June: Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Late June: Manila
End of June: Home.

What are you going to be doing?
Doing an Internship placement with the Western Pacific Regional office of the World Health Organization (and trying to remember to spell that with a "z".) Focusing on Hepatitis B control via vaccination, specifically looking at promoting uptake of the vaccine dose given at birth. This is when children are most likely to get Hep B & keep the infection for life, so the best window to intervene with immunisation.

Where are you staying?
I have a hostel until Wednesday & will figure the rest out when I get there.

They're putting you up, right?
No, the internship is not a job as such, but a work placement, hence I need to sort out arrangements myself. I'm hoping to count it as a subject for my long-running Masters study.

Will you have internet?
Yes. I will based in big cities, not in the jungle like before. Manila has 12 million people - I'm pretty sure they have phones. I might even have one myself.
But seriously, I expect to get a local sim card so not sure about being textable on my current number, but will be here, on email, fb and skype.

Have you had all your shots?
One of the benefits of leaving the country so often is that I've actually had them all already... and don't need any boosters or anything!

What are you doing after you come back?
Drinking cocktails and knitting.

Off again...

Hello all who may occasionally drop in (all three of you) and welcome to everyone else! Once again I am jetting off for a few months of my life, thus resurrecting this blog seems the way to go. Please feel free to contact me by other means, but this way I'll not be cluttering up inboxes!