If improving the health of the children and mothers we serve is why we exist, our field partners and consultants are how we make it happen. Diligently and humbly, they are our boots on the ground.
Dr. Luz Escubil, known affectionately by the Vitamin Angels team as Ootty, is our Advisor for programs in the Philippines where she oversees the entire program and ensures that our vitamins get into the right hands. In a country where vitamin A deficiency is considered ‘moderate,’ intestinal parasites are prevalent, and pregnant women battle anemia, Ootty’s job is made all the more complicated by a combination of geographical, climate-related, and social challenges.
“Many communities get displaced during disasters and conflict. Last May, a province down south, a Muslim area, was overtaken by terrorists. The government came in, and there was bombing, so the entire population was displaced and had to evacuate to the nearest province,” she shared. “There really was a demand for the vitamin A and prenatal multivitamins, and we were able to engage a new field partner there. They were evacuees themselves. Even then, they set up an office so they could help their fellow community members.”
Resilience, she noted, is a common thread amongst the other organizations her team engages.
“Field partners are always responsive to changes in situations. When disaster was imminent they were very responsive in attending to people’s needs,” she said. “But they didn’t forget that vitamins were an important part of the services that they were supposed to deliver.”
That perspective is critical in continuing to provide access to resources for vulnerable populations, “There’s really a bigger need because of the displaced communities and disrupted services,” she added. “The women and children are more prone to illness, so we really need to be supportive.”
With the increasing demand for prenatal multivitamins, comes additional elements of adversity, but so far, Ootty and her team remain resolute.
“Since we’re expanding the program on the prenatals; the expectation has been built up. The supply last year was spread out,” she noted. “And then with [field partners asking for more vitamins] this year, there’s really quite a lot of requests to be filled.”
There’s quite a lot to be done, period. But Ootty’s commitment to her work is driven by strong core values.
“Being in the medical field, or public health, it’s really about service and helping other people get a better life,” she said. “I’ve come to appreciate more our role as bridging the gap.”
That mentality transcends her professional life. When we spoke to her, Ootty was in England – 7,000 miles from home—preparing to donate a kidney.
“Years ago I had this friend whose brother was on dialysis. She asked me if I wanted to give my kidney to her brother, and I said yes,” she recalled. “But there were several requirements in my country to be able to donate, and her brother also had other illnesses; unfortunately, he passed away without getting the transplant.”
“I was telling this to a common friend, and she asked if I would give it to her cousin who lives in the United Kingdom,” she continued. “I said yes because I had already decided to do it anyway. It wouldn’t have matter who asked for it.”
Even with her surgery date fast approaching, Ootty wasn’t worrying about herself.
“I’ve never had surgery, so maybe on the date I’ll have a bit of anxiety about it. But I’m more anxious about the vitamins coming in!”, she laughed. “Because of the time difference, to be able to communicate with my teammate back home, I send messages at 2 a.m. and then go back to sleep.”
Ootty’s unconditional dedication to improving health, whether it’s a selfless gift from one person to another or a remarkable effort to impact millions of lives, is creating lasting change and an inspiration.