Philippines: Assistance and response after Typhoon Haiyan

November 2013

WHO is working together with the Regional Department of Health (DoH) to match the health needs of the communities with incoming assistance.

Driving up the road from Cebu City to the northern tip of the island, the intensity of Typhoon Haiyan is immediately apparent: trees, including the usually wind-resistant coconut trees, and electric poles lie on the ground; debris from roofs and other remains of buildings are piled up along the roadsides; electricity and water supplies are not functioning and food is scarce because the typhoon damaged fishing boats and destroyed all crops such as banana trees, corn fields and vegetable gardens.

Communities starting to clean their homes following Typhoon Hiayan, northern Cebu, the Philippines.
WHO/T. Jasarevic

Residents are sheltered in schools, churches or evacuation centres. Some have left the region altogether, others moved to southern parts of the island. In all, the storm destroyed more than 60% of houses and caused extensive damage to infrastructure, ruining the livelihood of hundreds of thousands people living in 4 districts of Northern Cebu.

Matching needs with assistance

WHO is working together with the Regional Department of Health (DoH) to match the needs of the communities with incoming assistance. Everyday, health workers from the epidemiological and surveillance unit from the DoH travel to affected areas to provide necessary assistance and keep up to date on the health situation in the functioning health centres and hospitals.

“Today we are bringing tetanus vaccines for injured patients and measles vaccines for [an] upcoming campaign”

Rennan Cimafranca, head of Cebu City-based DoH epidemiological team.

“Today we are bringing tetanus vaccines for injured patients and measles vaccines for [an] upcoming campaign” says Rennan Cimafranca, head of Cebu City-based DoH epidemiological team.

WHO and the Department of Health are developing a plan to vaccinate children under 5 years in all areas severely affected against measles and polio. Because tetanus is a major concern when people have open wounds, WHO preemptively identified a source of tetanus immunoglobulin, a treatment for people who are suspected of having tetanus, even before the typhoon hit. In the aftermath, 2000 doses were brought into the country and distributed under the direction of the DoH.

Access to clean water a priority

“Another priority to prevent disease outbreaks,” she says, “is to increase access to clean water or their ability to purify the water, because currently they are gathering water from open wells which are often contaminated.”

Emergency medical supplies being delivered in Danbantayan, Philippines.
WHO/T. Jasarevic

According to Dr. Abraham Maderazo, the medical officer at district hospital of Danbantayan at the northern tip of Cebu Island, the main health issues they are seeing in their patients include cases of diarrhoea, pneumonia in children and infection of wounds. “We also lack referral capacity for difficult cases because we have no functioning ambulances.”

Filling the gaps

As is often the case in disasters, health workers were also either affected by the storm directly or are helping their loved ones who were, so only half of them have been able to report to work in the aftermath of the typhoon. The DoH is sending its teams to assist, but foreign teams are also filling the gap. For example, the Israeli Medical Corps, with 64 staff members and the facilities to perform operations and assist caesarean births, has set up a health facility in the town of Bogo just south of Daanbantayan.

An Israeli field hospital set up next to the Severo Verallo Memorial District Hospital in Northern Cebu.
WHO/I. Haman

The assistance and response seen here in northern Cebu is being replicated in the cities and towns across the islands in the hope that it will be enough to get the injured the help they need and prevent disease outbreaks from occurring. WHO is supporting the national DoH with coordination of the international medical teams and pulling together a cold chain that could help prepare for the vaccination campaign in the next few weeks.

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