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Aid agencies help Philippines typhoon survivors with healthcare

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Thu, 24 Jan 2013 18:20 GMT
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BAGANGA, Philippines (AlertNet) - Fourteen-year-old Animahr Sayman was in pain. He had stepped on a two-inch nail lying in the remains of his home the day before, and half of it had gone through his slipper into his right foot. 

“The typhoon destroyed our house. I was helping my parents to do some carpentry so we could repair it faster,” the student, clad in a purple t-shirt and jeans, told AlertNet. 

“It is aching right now but I’m not scared,” he said. “I hope I’ll get a tetanus shot here,” he added. 

“Here” was the tented health facility set up by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Baganga municipality in Davao Oriental province. 

When Typhoon Bopha struck Mindanao island early on Dec. 4, it flooded farming and mining towns and buried people in mudslides. More than 1,800 people are dead or missing and over 210,000 houses were damaged. 

The most intense storm to hit disaster-prone Philippines in 2012 also destroyed the health infrastructure, from small village aid posts to provincial hospitals.  

Government reports say some 180 health facilities were destroyed, mainly in Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley, the two provinces hardest hit. Many are still closed. 

Even before the storm Baganga, a community of more than 53,000 people, had only one doctor.

The ICRC set up a tented clinic on Jan. 3 on an empty plot of land for general consultations, mothers and children, and psychosocial support. In less than three weeks, the clinic has seen more than 1,500 cases. 

“Most cases relate to acute respiratory infections, acute watery diarrhoea and open puncture wounds,” said Isabel Diez Valcarce, ICRC health programme manager and a qualified nurse. 


“The damage to health facilities in the areas hit was extensive, with many doctors and nurses themselves affected… and life-saving medical supplies were lost,” said Luiza Carvalho, the United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in the Philippines. 

Local authorities and aid agencies responded strongly, launching disease surveillance and immunisation campaigns, she said. “These efforts are saving lives. To date, there have been no outbreaks of deadly diseases,” she told AlertNet. 

But the crisis is not over, and on Friday the United Nations is launching a revised funding appeal for continued assistance. The original plan requesting $65 million is less than half funded. 

“Whenever water and sanitation infrastructure is damaged to the extent we have seen in the Davao area, there are always concerns about disease outbreaks as many water points are contaminated,” said Anne Taylor, regional emergency coordinator for Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), which operates two mobile clinics in Davao Oriental. 

“Currently we are monitoring the leptospirosis and dengue fever situation, which is being managed by the government health authorities at this stage,” she added. 

Leptospirosis is contracted through wounds or broken skin that come into contact with flood waters, vegetation or moist soil contaminated by bacteria from the urine of infected animals, mainly rats. It killed 15 people and affected hundreds after Tropical Storm Washi hit northern Mindanao in December 2011. 


Rapid assessments immediately after the typhoon showed malnutrition levels of around 10 to 11 percent in Davao Oriental and this is “expected to deteriorate further if adequate steps are not taken to address the situation,” said Aamir Kaleem, Save the Children’s Emergency Response Team Leader in the Philippines. 

Even before the typhoon, malnutrition levels in Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley were at or above the national average, the  United Nations said. 

This week, Save the Children started a programme to screen 50,000 to 60,000 children and pregnant and lactating women in Davao Oriental and Agusan Del Sur. 

For 33-year-old mother Ceralin Tosay, these health services are essential. She came to the ICRC clinic on Monday with a sick 3-1/2 year-old son. Red-eyed and restless, he had a fever, cough and asthma. 

She’d been treating him herself but ran out of medicine. The local health station is still closed and the family, living in a temporary shelter with no idea when they can repair their wrecked house, have little spare cash. 

“I’m just hoping he’ll get well after getting some medicine,” she said. 

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