Turning crisis into opportunity: Typhoon Haiyan one year on

November 2014

On 8 November 2013 Super Typhoon Haiyan swept across the Philippines. Millions of people were affected. As international assistance began to pour in, WHO was one of the first agencies on the ground.

Gina Bacuñata, a midwife at the Magallanes Health Center in Tacloban City, Philippines in her rehabilitated health station
WHO/F. Guerrero

WHO worked with the Philippine Department of Health (DOH) as co-lead for the health cluster – coordinating the work of all the different organizations working to improve health services. Together the organizations began coordinating over 150 foreign medical teams and more than 500 tonnes of medical supplies and equipment that arrived in response.

Health response

In the six months after the response, health needs came in four waves.

In the first month, the health response focused on coordinating the national and foreign medical teams to treat injuries and attend to pregnant women and newborn children.

The second challenge was to prevent disease breaking out. WHO worked with the DOH to activate disease surveillance systems across areas affected by the typhoon, organize mass immunization of children against measles and polio, and clean up débris and prevent the spread of diseases such as dengue and typhoid.

Three months in, health workers found themselves treating noncommunicable diseases such as heart attacks and diabetes. Patients had lost medicines or were experiencing new complications due to the stress of the typhoon and its aftermath. Six months after the typhoon struck, they were addressing mental health as communities struggled to restore their lives. WHO had already helped provide psychological first aid in the first weeks and months after the typhoon. But after six months, mental health problems increased (a trend WHO witnessed in the aftermath of the Tsnunami in 2001) requiring further specialised training for key health workers to respond.

As the response switched gear from emergency mode to longer-term recovery, foreign medical teams began to leave and temporary health facilities started to transition from tents to buildings. As the one year anniversary of Typhoon Haiyan approaches, there has been a rise in births – a trend that often occurs after an emergency. With each new life comes much joy and also a further increase in the demands for health care now and in the future. This is triggering new health needs: WHO has worked with the DOH to pinpoint where it is vital to invest funds to rebuild health services based on factors such as shifts in population size and location.

Strengthening health systems

Over the past 12 months WHO has worked to turn a crisis into an opportunity: to strengthen health systems by rehabilitating facilities, donating equipment and scaling up health services such as disease surveillance. WHO has worked with DOH and health partners to provide essential health services and to upgrade systems to prevent disease. To date there has been no major disease outbreak in the Haiyan affected areas while services such as reproductive health care, mental health provision and water quality testing are now available in areas that previously had none. If communities are to survive disasters like Haiyan in the future, it will be important to establish a robust health system that ensures universal access to health care: a key DOH priority known as “Kalusugan Pangkalahatan (KP)”.

“Typhoon Haiyan was a natural disaster of enormous proportions. It demanded we all rise to the challenge and work together to provide immediate health care but also improve health services in the long term for the affected communities. WHO Philippines is proud of the work we have done with the support of WHO colleagues from across the world. We are delighted to continue to work alongside the government of the Philippines and health cluster partners as we continue to support communities to recover. We are grateful to all the donors who have supported our work. Together we aim to build back a better, more resilient health system for the future. Together we are putting health at the heart of healing.” said WHO Country Representative in the Philippines Dr Julie Hall.