Two members of our Emergency Response Team are currently traveling in the Philippines, working to assess health needs and assist with Direct Relief’s response on the ground. Below is an update from our Emergency Response Manager, Andrew MacCalla:
After meeting with the local Red Cross, the local Disaster Management Agency, and the Governor of Cebu, an extremely gracious and friendly man, we headed north to Bogo, a city on the northeast coast of Cebu, a province hit hard by the typhoon. More than 90 percent of homes were damaged and more than 500 families are living in shelters, according to the local officials.
We arrived at the Provincial Hospital and found the Israeli army/medical team had set up their field operations in the yard of the hospital and were treating hundreds of patients per day, many of whom were injured in the typhoon.
These guys were also some of the first on the scene after the Haiti earthquake and performed surgeries on patients who suffered some of the most traumatic injuries. They arrived into Bogo about four days after the Typhoon in their military planes and arrive on-site as a fully-functional trauma care hospital. They did some major surgeries after the Typhoon but are now transitioning things back to the local hospital as it settles down.
Inside, we met Dr. Carlos Layese Jr., a pediatrician and the chief medical officer of the hospital. The place was bustling–over 200 babies are born there every month, and it has a tuberculosis (TB) isolation ward, and busy operating theater. Every single bed was full when we went there. In fact, they are an 80 bed hospital with 150 patients inside, so the hallways were jam-packed with patients.
Dr. Doug Gross, a pediatrician and a member of the US Federal DMAT team who is traveling with us, got to spend some time with patients, including a three-day-old baby with pneumonia who was having an extremely hard time breathing. Looking at this baby, you could instantly tell something was wrong because her whole body moved up and down as she struggled to breathe at an incredibly fast pace.
They had her on oxygen and IV antibiotics. Dr. Gross said that was the correct procedure and hopefully the antibiotics would kill whatever it was making her labor for breath, but it was still very hard to witness. The fear is that if she gets any worse, they don’t have a ventilator for her to use and so eventually she won’t be able to breathe on her own any longer.
It’s incredibly sad to see something like that – where for a lack of a piece of equipment, a mother might lose her child. It’s not for any lack of medical care or training–just a simple lack of a material good–which happens to be what Direct Relief focuses on.
However, these are the times when you see true ingenuity come out as well. Dr. Layese showed us the pediatric intensive care unit where they did have one working incubator. However, whenever they had to transfer babies to another facility, they never had a good way to keep the baby warm – that is, until the Israelis came with their cases of meals ready-to-eat (MREs).
As I now know after eating my first MRE in Tacloban, they come with a heating element that activates when surrounded by water. Well, Dr. Layese realized that same heater that is usually discarded from the MRE after it’s used could be used inside the incubator to keep the baby warm in transit. So now when they transfer babies, they carefully surround them with these mini heaters to keep them warm on the two hour journey to Cebu city.
The scale of needs is enormous right now. Direct Relief has been using our reports from the field to put in specific requests for medicines to our pharmaceutical supporters. At headquarters, the team is preparing the third and largest mass shipment for this response yet – 125 pallets worth more than $4 million – that will ship out via FedEx airlift on Saturday. I know that these items will be put to good use once on the ground.