Philippines: local medical teams are first to deliver critical health services

November 2013

In the first 48 hours after an emergency the local community is the first to respond providing assistance to people in need. The ability of local teams to deliver critical health interventions in the hours after a disaster is key to saving lives.

Less than 24 hours after Typhoon Haiyan struck the central Philippines on 8 November 2013, the Government deployed medical teams from other parts of the country to the hardest-hit areas. These were the first teams to arrive on the scene and the first to provide critical health services to survivors.

A member of Presidential Services Guard who sustained serious injuries while delivering relief in Tacloban, is being cared for by some of the same doctors and nurses deployed with him as part of the local response.
WHO/I. Hamam

“It was heart-breaking,” says Nurse Clinton Gairanod, part of a team of 24 doctors and nurses from Vincente Sotto Medical Centre in Cebu City which travelled with 2 vans with food, water, medicines and medical supplies to the neighbouring island to help people in Tacloban just after the storm passed.

Ormoc City: fuel shortages

“On our way, we passed by the city of Ormoc. It took us 12 hours to get there by boat although it usually takes 4 hours. Houses were destroyed and there were no electrical posts left standing. There was no water and no food. The hospital was not operational as its personnel were also affected by the storm, and the hospital generators were broken.”

So the team sent for a generator from Cebu City and set up an emergency room at Ormoc District Hospital. “We stayed for less than 24 hours and saw 200 patients, but because fuel for the generator was limited, there was no power during the day and we could only schedule surgical operations for a few hours at night,” Clinton said.

In fact fuel shortages posed the biggest challenges in all aspects of the emergency response because it could not be transported by air, and there was limited access to affected areas by road or boat. In the days following the disaster, WHO was able to facilitate the provision and delivery of fuel to allow health personnel to work and medical supplies to reach affected areas.

Most of the cases they handled in Ormoc City were broken bones and lacerations. “Many of the wounds were infected, so we ended up using half of our entire supply of anti-tetanus injections during the time we spent there. There were also many people with diarrhoea, cough and fever.”

Tacloban: emergency room opened

The team then moved on to Tacloban, where 1 hospital – operational despite being partially flooded – was being managed by a medical team that had also arrived from Cebu with their own generator.

Clinton’s team was assigned to work in a private hospital that had been shut down as half of it had been destroyed, including the operating room.

“We opened an emergency room and began treating patients right away,” he explains. “We treated children, the elderly, mothers and fathers for wounds. We gave them anti-tetanus shots and preventive treatment for leptospirosis.”

Nurse Clinton Gairanod, Vincente Sotto Medical Centre, Cebu City

“We opened an emergency room and began treating patients right away,” he explains. “We treated children, the elderly, mothers and fathers for wounds. We gave them anti-tetanus shots and preventive treatment for leptospirosis.”

Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection, transmitted through direct contact with the urine of infected animals or with a urine-contaminated water.

As word spread that the hospital was open, patients began to flood the hospital. The team saw more than 500 people a day, working around the clock and sleeping in their vans whenever they were too tired to work. The 3 orthopaedic doctors on the team were busy tackling the many fractures. Three days later, the first foreign medical teams arrived.

“We handed over our remaining food and water to the Hungarian team and a local team that had arrived from Manila, and drove back to Cebu. We had to take it slow as there was debris and dead bodies lining the roads.”

Philippine medical teams deployed

Since the storm, the Philippine Government has deployed 45 medical teams from hospitals across the country to care for people in typhoon-affected areas. WHO helped the Department of Health organize the deployment of foreign medical teams and ensure that they are positioned in areas where their services are most needed.

“When you see victims of disasters on TV, you feel sorry for them,” says Anna Marie Advincula, a nurse on the same medical team. “But when it actually happens to you, it’s different. My family is from Ormoc and my husband’s family is from Tacloban, so it was a very emotional time for me. I was exhausted and nauseous for days when I returned, but I would have stayed longer if they had asked me to. My heart belongs there.”