In the early morning hours of November 20, a baby boy, Justin James Warren Pambulan, was born in Guiuan on the east coast of Samar island in the Philippines. Weighing 2.2 kilograms [about 4.8 pounds], he was the first baby delivered in the makeshift maternity and labor room Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) had established in the town following Typhoon Haiyan, and his early cries were a great relief to his mother, Sarah, who could still remember the horrifying noises she’d heard less than two weeks earlier.
When the storm arrived, she says, “It sounded like an explosion. But actually, the sound came from the roof of my aunt’s house where we were seeking shelter. It was raining hard and the strong wind just blew off the roof and then the walls fell down.”
She did everything she could think of to keep her unborn baby safe. “I covered my stomach with two blankets to protect it from debris. So I moved with my relatives to a bathroom. We thought it would be safe there. But it wasn’t. I was pinned down by a concrete slab on my back and I was very worried for my unborn baby.”
She was trapped for three hours before help arrived. “I was praying very hard to survive the danger. I was almost suffocated and breathless because of the heavy concrete.”
It was her aunt who saved her. “She walked me through the ruins,” Sarah recalls. “Then I started feeling pain in my tummy. But my aunt told me that maybe it was because I was stressed. Days after the typhoon, last Tuesday, the pain on my back became more frequent and I suddenly felt wet. My water had broken at midnight. That’s when we went to the hospital.”
Before the typhoon, Guiuan’s fully equipped general hospital received patients from several nearby towns, providing surgical, maternity, and inpatient services. It was incapacitated by Haiyan, however, leaving many with no access to medical care—including expecting mothers.
But now, MSF is providing inpatient and maternity services in tents set up in the hospital’s yard. A surgical unit will soon follow.
Greetje Torbeyns is an MSF doctor who has been in Guiuan for three days working with logisticians and medical staff to get the programs up and running.
“Setting up the maternity ward was a challenge,” he says. “All the maternity facilities were damaged but luckily the beds were still in an acceptable condition. So we had to take them out from the ruins, clean and sanitize them. We also needed a room with clean beds and mattresses for women who try to give birth at home and then suffer from complications such as prolonged labor or eclampsia. Water is essential too, just to keep everything clean. And then there’s proper waste management to ensure a safe environment, so the disposal of hospital waste is really important.”
All the preparation makes the medical work possible, he adds, even in very challenging circumstances. “When this patient came in, it was very dark. There was no light, no electricity. We had to use flashlights to be able to do our job.”
Of little Jason’s birth, he says, “It is extremely special to me that I was the doctor of our first mother and baby in the maternity ward. In the aftermath of typhoon, it is very rewarding that we are able to make a difference.”