One month after Typhoon Haiyan, which killed 5,600 people and displaced more than four million according to official figures, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is working in several locations on three islands in the Philippines to support the health system and deliver medical care to those in need.
“We are providing health care to people, including those who live in remote areas where access to health care is limited,” explains Natasha Reyes, MSF medical coordinator in the Philippines. “We are also supporting the health system as it recovers: teams are setting up temporary structures, supporting and helping to repair existing medical facilities so that they can function again. We have also distributed relief supplies, tents, reconstruction kits and provided clean drinking water to affected communities.”
While international medical teams are beginning to leave the islands, MSF intends to stay, ensuring that urgent medical needs are met until the health system has adequately recovered.
The first MSF teams arrived in the Philippines on November 9 in the immediate aftermath of the typhoon. During the first ten days of MSF’s intervention, transport was problematic: the few functioning airports and ports were congested, roads were blocked and damaged, and both fuel and vehicles were in short supply.
In spite of persistent logistical constraints, the teams gradually gained access to the most affected areas. And now some of the main roads have now been cleared, and travel by boat and plane has become easier.
Resources Varying by Location
“On the whole, aid efforts have increased, but there are disparities from one place to another,” says Ibrahim Younis, MSF emergency coordinator in the Philippines.
In Tacloban, for example, there are a number of humanitarian organizations present. The few functioning hospitals have sustained major damage and staff work around the clock to care for large numbers of patients. There is no electricity and there is a shortage of health care workers as many have left and have not yet returned. MSF therefore is filling a gap in the health system by providing secondary health care and surgical support.
In other urban centers like Guiuan and Burauen, MSF is one of only a few organizations offering humanitarian aid or providing medical care. In some rural and coastal areas such as the archipelago and the eastern coast of Panay island, the north of Leyte and the eastern Samar islands, aid has been deployed slowly. MSF mobile clinics are still finding villages where people have received no assistance at all.
Supporting Existing Hospitals and Setting Up Temporary Ones
MSF teams have set up four temporary hospitals, including an inflatable hospital in Tacloban, and tented hospitals in Burauen and Tanauan (on Leyte island) and in Guiuan (on Samar island).
In Balasan (Panay island), teams are also supporting existing hospitals and health centers. MSF also supports health centers and runs mobile clinics around Estancia (Panay island), Palo, Santa Fe, Buruaen, Ormoc (Leyte island) and in Guiuan (Samar island), serving isolated inland and coastal communities.
Patients seen by MSF are suffering from respiratory infections and infected wounds. There are also patients with obstetrical complications, trauma injuries, and chronic diseases, treatment of which had been interrupted. Psychologists are on hand to offer individual consultations and group sessions.
As living conditions in many places are overcrowded and unsanitary, MSF teams have also been taking measures to help prevent the spread of disease. Teams have provided clean drinking water to people in affected communities. MSF has also carried out distributions of essential relief supplies including tents, plastic sheeting, cooking utensils, hygiene kits and blankets; they are also providing reconstruction kits to help people rebuild their homes.