Philippines: Foreign medical teams work together to provide health care in Ormoc

December 2013

The District Hospital in Ormoc – a city on the island of Leyte in the central Philippines, hit by Typhoon Haiyan – is delivering essential health services to people in need, thanks to seamless cooperation between medical teams from 6 countries.

“We have a common goal – to restore all the functions of our hospital and repair the physical damage.”

Brenda T. Adolfo, Administrator of Ormoc District Hospital

“We have a common goal – to restore all the functions of our hospital and repair the physical damage,” says Brenda T. Adolfo, Administrator of Ormoc District Hospital. “Since the arrival of the foreign teams, we’ve tried to share tasks so we act as 1 team.”

Within days of the typhoon, medical teams from the Canadian Red Cross, Mercy Malaysia, Médecins Sans Frontières Holland, the Norwegian Red Cross, and Swiss Humanitarian Aid pitched their tents in front of the hospital to assist Filipino health workers with treatment of the wounded. Hospital management quickly assigned teams to different areas, depending on their skills and equipment, and organized the work in the most efficient way.

Foreign medical team staff from Canadian Red Cross and Mercy Malaysia coordinating health-care services in Ormoc, the Philippines..
WHO/T. Jasarevic

“It’s very interesting to work with all the other teams. We learn a lot from one another,” says Nur Hayati, Programme Administrator of the Mercy Malaysia team that is running the emergency room and outpatient care. “We appreciate the leadership of the hospital management, as coordinating so many teams may not be easy.”

Extensive damage

Ormoc District Hospital is the main referral facility in the area, with over 100 beds. When the typhoon struck, no one could imagine the extent of the damage. “I was coming to work that morning and my van was shaking on the road as the wind picked up,” recalls Cristopher Malinao, a nurse working in a post-op recovery room that is now set up in a tent run by the Canadian Red Cross.

“Parts of the roof were blown away, so we moved 78 patients to another part of the building that was protected from the wind. Then it stopped and we thought it is over. In fact, we were in the eye of the typhoon so when it struck again it was much stronger but from the opposite direction, tearing all the roofing off, so we had to move patients again into the central administration area,” describes Mr Malinao.

All inpatient wards were severely damaged by the typhoon. When the foreign medical teams arrived, they were asked not only to provide coordinated health services, but also to take part in the logistics of reconstructing the hospital, such as hiring workers and organizing materials. To ensure the work is done in a comprehensive way, a hospital engineer is overseeing the reconstruction work being done by different teams in various parts of the hospital.

Coordination challenge

The city of Ormoc, with its 200 000 inhabitants, took a direct hit from the typhoon. More than 5000 people have been treated for wounds, accounting for around 6 out of 10 consultations since the typhoon. Some of the other health problems are pneumonia, fever and diarrhoea.

The level of medical assistance has been impressive. Since the typhoon, 38 foreign and 21 national medical teams have come to Ormoc to deliver life-saving care. Many have now departed, but new teams are still coming in. As in Ormoc District Hospital, the coordination of all partners at different sites across the city is essential.

“On day 1, health authorities established a command centre to register organizations wishing to provide health services,” says Craig Hampton, team leader for WHO in Ormoc, who is supporting the Department of Health in coordinating the response. “We’re here to help health officials allocate incoming health assistance in the most efficient way. We’re also strengthening disease monitoring and response capacity.”

Life in Ormoc begins to look more normal, with banks and restaurants reopening and electricity on its way to being restored. Health officials hope that the medical teams from other parts of the Philippines and overseas will stay long enough to restore the pre-typhoon level of care.