In the wake of the devastating typhoon that hit the Philippines on November 8, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) emergency teams are trying to reach the worst-affected parts of the country. Efforts to reach the city of Tacloban in Leyte Province are being complicated by roads that are blocked with debris, as well as strong winds and torrential rain that have led to many flights into the area being cancelled.
"The situation is catastrophic—it's total chaos," says Dr. Natasha Reyes, MSF emergency coordinator in the Philippines. “Access is extremely difficult and [the situation] is preventing people from receiving help. Our priority is to get to those people in more isolated areas; they are the hardest to reach and often the last to receive much-needed assistance.”
100 Staff, 8 Planes On the Way
MSF is rapidly scaling up its response and will have more than 100 staff in the area in the coming days, including doctors, nurses, surgeons, logisticians, psychologists, and water and sanitation experts. Eight planeloads of aid materials—including medical supplies, shelter materials, hygiene kits, and water and sanitation equipment—are also on their way to the Philippines from MSF warehouses around the world.
With health facilities damaged or destroyed and medical equipment washed away in the storm surge, many of the injured in Tacloban have gathered at the city’s airport. An MSF team will help provide medical care at the airport and support a hospital that is still functioning.
Teams also plan to travel by boat and helicopter to the surrounding areas—particularly the islands west of Cebu and the town of Guiuan town, to the east—to provide urgent medical aid. With communication networks down, there is still little information available about the extent of the damage in many remote and rural areas.
Expecting "Significant Injuries"
“There are definitely wounded people who have not yet received medical attention,” says Dr. Reyes. “With so many houses and buildings having collapsed because of the strong winds, we’re expecting to see some significant injuries.
"Even minor wounds can potentially cause major problems if they become infected, which is quickly becoming a serious concern as the days pass without people having access to medical care.”
MSF’s priority is to address the urgent and immediate medical needs, including vaccinating people against tetanus. “After that, it’s everything; shelter, water, food,” says Reyes. “People have lost everything.”